Article originally published by Hannes Smarason's blog - 03/11/2017
By Hannes Smarason
How will WuXi NextCODE bring AI to the forefront of drug discovery and development? CEO Hannes Smarason explains.
CEO Hannes Smarason outlined his vision for AI in genomics during an interview with WuXi AppTec’s WXpress. The key take-aways of that interview are:
The core of our strategy is to bring together three different things: Cutting-edge algorithms, domain expertise, and large data sets.
Because of our history pioneering this field, we already have a wealth of samples as well as a very sophisticated and robust way of mining that data to help discover novel treatment pathways and for possibly re-purposing drugs. We are also continually developing new algorithms and other methods to distinguish between people who will respond and those who won’t when given a particular treatment.
Incorporating AI creates a much more data-driven rather than hypothesis-driven process. That improves the likelihood of identifying patterns and novel insights that may have been overlooked using conventional methods. That means finding the truly causal genes or pathways that drive disease. The goal is to have a more powerful starting point for the development of treatments.
Our deep-learning algorithms have already been used to uncover a particular mechanism that appears to be a key driver in the development of the vascular system. That mechanism had not previously been described. Yale biologists then validated that discovery in an animal model, proving that our AI method had accurately predicted the role of this particular pathway in vascular development. So, when used correctly, AI can open up a whole new druggable pathway.
We must look at AI as a force-multiplier, as opposed to a replacement for independent thinking. That’s one reason having domain expertise in genetics and biology is absolutely key. The second thing is that you have to have access to a wealth of information, including cohort studies as well as genomic and phenotypic data.
Much like any major technological development, it’s going to start up slowly and then gather momentum. We believe that because of AI’s unique ability to bring large and complex data sets together and identify patterns within them, that in the end, it’s going to have an exponential impact in advancing and applying precision medicine. The result is going to be game-changing benefits to patients around the globe in terms of better diagnostics and better-targeted drugs.