Artificial intelligence company Quris to open centre in Abu Dhabi

Biotechnology company specialises in drug trials that do not involve animals or humans

MBZUAI's Timothy Baldwin and Quris chief executive Dr Isaac Bentwich. Photo: Quris
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A company that uses artificial intelligence to speed up drug trials will open a research centre in Abu Dhabi.

Quris-AI signed an agreement with the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence this week to develop a bio-AI centre in the capital.

The Tel Aviv and Boston-based company recently attracted tens of millions of dollars in funding for its “patient-on-a-chip” technology, with Softbank's Vision Fund among the investors.

Quris research operations are led by Nobel laureate Prof Aaron Ciechanover and Moderna co-founder Prof Robert Langer.

One compelling aspect of my discussions has been about solving UAE-specific health problems faster and more cost-effectively
Prof Eric Xing, Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence

Prof Eric Xing, the university's president, said together the two parties would look at how drugs could be tailored for patient use in the UAE.

“One compelling aspect of my discussions with Prof Ciechanover and the Quris team has been about solving UAE-specific health problems faster and more cost-effectively,” Dr Xing said.

The “patient-on-a-chip” technique involves rapid tests using AI technology that simulates genetically diverse patients.

This negates the need for animal testing and avoids the risk and cost associated with failed clinical trials.

The average cost of developing a new drug from scratch takes a decade and costs $2.8 billion. Even then, about 90 per cent of new drugs fail the second stage of clinical trials.

“The organelle systems being developed at Quris are a revolutionary platform for high-throughput drug testing, which can be best served by a similarly high-throughput drug design pipeline using AI,” Prof Xing said.

“Our unique capacities in computational biology and machine learning at MBZUAI will enhance Quris’ efforts to accelerate the development of new personalised and potentially life-saving medicines.”

Dr Isaac Bentwich, founder and chief executive of Quris, said the centre was the latest step in UAE's ambitions to “to become a centre of excellence in AI as a strong pillar of the economy, and we are honoured to contribute to realising this vision”.

Dr Bentwich has previously likened drug testing to building 10 tower blocks, with the knowledge that “nine will crumble”.

“But you have no idea which ones will fall, so all you can do is build them and charge a higher rent on the one that keeps standing,” he said at the time.

“That's the problem we are trying to solve.”

As of December 2022, Quris had attracted $37 million in seed funding, including $9 million from Japan's SoftBank.

Former Pfizer chief executive Henry McKinnell is chairman of the Quris Advisory Board, alongside Dr Kobi Richter, founder of world-leading companies Medinol and Orbotech.

Updated: January 17, 2023, 12:20 PM