AZ researches kidney and lung drugs with BenevolentAI

AstraZeneca has become the latest big pharma to jump on the artificial intelligence R&D bandwagon, penning a deal with the UK’s BenevolentAI to find new kidney and lung drugs.

The long-term collaboration will use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to discover and develop new treatments for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

It will combine AZ’s genomics, chemistry and clinical data with BenevolentAI’s target identification platform and biomedical knowledge graph – a network of contextualised scientific data – genes, proteins, diseases, and compounds – and the relationship between them.

Machine learning systematically analyses data to find connections between facts, and AI-based reasoning is used to extrapolate previously unknown connections.

The companies will interpret the results to understand the underlying mechanisms of these complex diseases and more quickly identify new potential drug targets.

London-based BenevolentAI is already well-established in the field of drug R&D, and is considered to be a biotech “unicorn” – a privately-held company worth more than $1 billion.

This year it raised a further $115 million from new and existing investors to increase its value to more than $2 billion, and has acquired a new R&D facility in Cambridge, where AstraZeneca has also located its new R&D hub.

While BenevolentAI has had some notable successes, working with charities on drugs for macular degeneration, and identifying promising drug candidates for motor neurone disease, this is one of the company’s most high profile collaborations yet.

AZ’s influential president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, Mene Pangalos, said: “The vast amount of data available to research scientists is growing exponentially each year. By combining AstraZeneca’s disease area expertise and large, diverse datasets with BenevolentAI’s leading AI and machine learning capabilities, we can unlock the potential of this wealth of data to improve our understanding of complex disease biology and identify new targets that could treat debilitating diseases.”

Joanna Shields

Joanna Shields, appointed CEO of BenevolentAI earlier this year, said: “We are thrilled to be joining forces with AstraZeneca to develop new insights and identify promising new treatments for chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.”

Big pharma is increasingly turning to AI to make the drug discovery process faster and more efficient, such as using the technology to sort through the countless millions of molecules that could react with a drug target.

Celgene recently signed an oncology R&D deal with BenevolentAI’s UK rival, Exscientia, which is also working with GlaxoSmithKline.

No financial details of the AZ deal were disclosed.

 

 

 

 

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