UAE-backed biotech company trials drug designed by artificial intelligence

Insilico Medicine, which has a research and development hub in Abu Dhabi, is developing a key drug to combat chronic lung disease

Dr Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and co-chief executive of Insilico Medicine,  in the company's AI-powered robotics lab in Suzhou, China. Photo: Insilico Medicine
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A UAE-backed biotechnology company has begun testing a drug “discovered and designed” using artificial intelligence on patients.

Insilico Medicine, which is based in Hong Kong and has a research and development centre in Abu Dhabi, harnessed advanced technology to develop a drug to treat idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a chronic lung disease which leads to lungs becoming scarred and breathing difficulties.

It said it had completed the first dose in patients this week, as part of Phase II trials, with plans to recruit 60 more people to take part in the study at sites in the US and China.

The 12-week trial aims to assess the safety, tolerability and efficacy of the orally-delivered drug – called INS018_055 – the company said.

“With demonstrated potential against both fibrosis and inflammation, INS018_055 could offer another option for patients worldwide,” said Feng Ren, chief scientific officer of Insilico Medicine.

“The achievement of the first dose for INS018_055 in the Phase II clinical trial is not only an important step for Insilico, but also a milestone for AI-driven drug discovery and development.

“Together, we are expecting more achievements powered by AI for global unmet medical needs.”

Dr Alex Zhavoronkov, founder and co-chief executive of the health tech enterprise, believes the progress made so far highlights the potential of AI-powered drug development.

“When we started developing generative AI for drug discovery, I never expected to see the clinical and preclinical results we have today,” he said.

“Initiating Phase II trials with this novel inhibitor for IPF represents a major milestone for deep generative reinforcement learning in drug discovery.

“We will explore the efficacy for patients of AI-discovered and designed treatments in clinical trials, which is a true validation of our generative AI platform. We are eager to continue to advance this potentially first-in-class therapy forward to help patients in need and show the value of generative AI in drug discovery and development.”

Its cause is not clear, but it typically affects people aged 70 and over and is rare among those under 50.

While a number of existing treatments are able to mitigate its impact on patients, there is currently no way to stop or reverse the scarring of the lungs.

How can AI boost patient care?

Drug discovery has long been a painstaking and expensive process, with preclinical stages often taking several years to complete and costing hundreds of millions of dollars. AI tools are increasingly being used to streamline the process, offering a potential lifeline to patients worldwide.

AI can be trained to trawl through vast data sets to increase understanding of diseases and what genes and proteins can be used to counteract them.

The technology can also be deployed to run drug simulations, predict outcomes, and support efforts to design crucial drugs.

UAE support

With support from the Abu Dhabi Investment Office, Insilico Medicine opened its Generative Artificial Intelligence and Quantum Computing Research and Development Centre in the International Renewable Energy Agency headquarters in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi in February.

“The prime location, strong and stable economy, developed infrastructure, and highly educated talent make Abu Dhabi an emerging hub that attracts high-tech companies from around the world,” said Alex Aliper, President of Insilico, at the time.

High-tech healthcare – in pictures

Updated: July 04, 2023, 6:16 PM