Google parent company Alphabet announced a new venture on 4th November, Thursday that plans to accelerate the drug discovery process using advances in artificial intelligence. Named Isomorphic Labs, an AI-driven drug discovery startup plans to build off Alphabet’s DeepMind AI research incubator, and it shares that venture’s founder and CEO, Demis Hassabis.
In a statement, Founder and Chief Executive Demis Hassabis said Isomorphic Labs’ goal is commercial but is anchored on designing a comprehensive drug discovery process using an AI-first approach. It is utilizing DeepMind’s AlphaFold2 system, which has been recognized as a potential solution to complicated protein folding, which no company has perfected to date.
In a blog post introducing the new company, Hassabis wrote “The pandemic has brought to the fore the vital work that brilliant scientists and clinicians do every day to understand and combat disease. We believe that the foundational use of cutting-edge computational and AI methods can help scientists take their work to the next level, and massively accelerate the drug discovery process. AI methods will increasingly be used not just for analyzing data, but to also build powerful predictive and generative models of complex biological phenomena. AlphaFold2 is an important first proof point of this, but there is so much more to come”.
At its most fundamental level, “I think biology can be thought of as an information processing system, albeit an extraordinarily complex and dynamic one”, he says. Taking this perspective implies there may be a common underlying structure between biology and information science – an isomorphic mapping between the two – hence the name of the company. “Biology is likely far too complex and messy to ever be encapsulated as a simple set of neat mathematical equations. But just as mathematics turned out to be the right description language for physics, biology may turn out to be the perfect type of regime for the application of AI”, he added.
Hassabis points to the groundbreaking success of DeepMind’s AlphaFold2, which uses AI to predict the 3D structure of a protein directly from its amino acid sequence.
“We are at an exciting moment in history now where these techniques and methods are becoming powerful and sophisticated enough to be applied to real-world problems including scientific discovery itself. One of the most important applications of AI that I can think of is in the field of biological and medical research, and it is an area I have been passionate about addressing for many years. Now the time is right to push this forward at pace, and with the dedicated focus and resources that Isomorphic Labs will bring,” noted Hassabis.
Hassabis will serve as CEO of both DeepMind and Isomorphic Labs “to facilitate collaboration between the two companies where relevant.” No specific areas of focus have been announced just yet, but the company plans to partner with pharmaceutical and biomedical companies in the immediate future, and it’s currently looking to fill several key leadership, scientific, engineering, and operational roles, along with hiring computational and medicinal chemists and machine learning experts.
In an interview with STAT News, Demis Hassabis was quoted as saying that while the company will be leveraging DeepMind’s tech, it might not develop its drugs yet but instead sell models that can predict how certain medications will interact with the body.
As pioneers in the emerging field of ‘digital biology’, the company looks forward to helping usher in an amazingly productive new age of biomedical breakthroughs. “Isomorphic’s mission could not be a more important one: to use AI to accelerate drug discovery, and ultimately, find cures for some of humanity’s most devastating diseases”, said Hassabis.