A drug designed by the UK firm Exscientia using AI-powered software has entered into a phase I clinical trial for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder, commonly known as OCD.
The clinical development of the drug will be carried out by Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, Exscientia’s Japanese collaborator. The drug took just 12 months to get to phase I, whereas conventional techniques take around five years.
“We are very excited with the results of the joint research that resulted in the development of candidate compounds in a very short time,” stated Toru Kimura, Senior Executive Officer of Sumitomo Dainippon.
OCD is widely thought to involve an imbalance in the neurochemical serotonin in the brain, and is often treated with medication that boosts the action of serotonin. The partners’ drug activates a cell surface protein called 5-HT1A, which is normally activated by serotonin, and is designed to kick in more quickly than current drugs for OCD.
According to one estimation, there are more potential small molecule drugs out there than there are atoms in the Solar System, making it a complex task finding which ones are best for a particular disease target. Exscientia’s drug discovery technology, called Centaur Chemist, is designed to learn complex drug design rules from chemists. Rather than replace human drug designers, it is aimed to speed up the process of deciding which chemicals would best treat a target disease.
Exscientia is one of many companies applying AI to speed up the drug discovery process, such as the UK companies Benevolent AI, Healx, Biorelate and Labgenius. Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia’s CEO and founder, said that Exscientia’s strategy is focused on the complete process of drug discovery from the initial research to phase I, whereas many other companies are focused on particular niches in the process.
“Exscientia has now proved AI can be efficiently used to design drugs safe for human testing,” he told me. “However, the entire pipeline from target identification to patient stratification and engagement in the clinic can benefit from AI.”
“This is very different from the use of AI to repurpose drugs,” stated Paul Workman, CEO of the Institute of Cancer Research, UK, who was not involved in the project. “Success stories like this will provide us with the hard evidence that AI really will deliver on its transformative potential.”
Exscientia is currently working with other big partners such as Celgene to bring more AI-designed drugs to clinical trials. The company expects to announce the phase I entry of another drug with an undisclosed partner within the next few months.
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