The Importance of Artificial Intelligence in Personalized Medicine and Healthcare
- Naheed Kurji
- NEF GG2018
- 1 Comment
Over the past few months, we at Cyclica have spoken a lot about the application of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, and in particular, the future of AI in drug discovery for the pharmaceutical industry. When applied appropriately to specific problems and questions, AI has far-reaching implications across the entire healthcare value chain, including: diagnosing diseases earlier, discovering and developing better medicines for individual patients or populations, detecting safety signals in clinical trials or in the market, prescribing those medicines more effectively, monitoring patient adherence to prescription, or managing patient care more generally.
As a quick summary, Cyclica is a Toronto, Canada-based, venture-backed company that is currently a resident company at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS @ Toronto, located in the center of the Innovation District. We chose to build the company in Toronto, as it has long been a global leader in scientific research and innovation, and is quickly becoming the epicenter for innovation in AI. We are helping pharmaceutical companies reduce risk and better allocate resources in getting life-saving medicines to the market by leveraging technological insights. We have developed and validated a first-in-class cloud-based platform, called Ligand Express™, which uses biophysics, bioinformatics and AI to help pharmaceutical companies navigate the drug discovery pipeline by assessing the safety and efficacy of drugs. Our integrated platform, Ligand Express™, enables companies to screen small-molecule drugs–in an unbiased manner–against repositories of all known biological protein targets to better understand all the potential effects of that drug in the human body. Essentially, Ligand Express™ enables researchers to make more informed decisions earlier in the R&D cycle, with greater confidence, about which molecules to advance, thus saving significant time and money.
We’re innovating in this space because the pharmaceutical industry is facing a significant productivity issue in that it progressively takes longer and costs more to bring drugs to patients, globally. The facts are well known – it takes 12 to 15 years, and costs billions of dollars to bring a medicine to the market, with much of that money spent on drug discovery and pre-clinical trials. According to a Shih et al. 2017 Nature Reviews publication, “the single biggest contributor to the cost of drug research and development (R&D) is the high project attrition rate.” Attrition is due to various reasons, including the fact that medicines are doing more than just one thing when in the body, and often they can result in toxicity or other adverse events. AI will undeniably play a large role in the near future in addressing these issues, by providing solutions to specific research questions that otherwise would be onerous or lengthy to do solely with traditional approaches. At Cyclica, we provide scientists with a solution to uncover many of the potential effects of a given medicine, computationally. But, even then a given medicine will work differently between different people – there does not exist “one size fits all” approach as people’s genetics play an important role in how a person responds to their medication. How will a patient in Africa respond different (or similarly) to a medicine versus a patient in Brazil? These are important questions to ensure that medicines and dosage that patients receive is tailored to their genetics. AI will be a major influence in the application of personalized medicine (aka as pharmacogenomics or precision medicine), and eventually to support how physicians and practitioners prescribe medications. You can learn more about our effort in personalized healthcare here.
Beyond discovering and providing access to better drugs, how can AI benefit Africa? My view is that patients all over the world, whether they know it or not, are being impacted by AI today through digital technologies, and that there is a unique opportunity to extend that to Africa. There’s the whole personalized medicine wave, genomic profiling, preventative medicine, and the availability of information accessible to our smart phones about oneself. That’s largely driven by AI algorithms. Smartphone use is expanding in Africa as prices and affordability have improved –from a health care perspective, this is important, and patients already are being impacted. According to a Newsweek article, “in Uganda, tens of thousands of government health workers use MTRAC—an SMS-based technology connecting hospitals to the national drug chain—to report on local medicine stocks using their mobile phones. LifeBank uses digital supply chain technology to deliver blood when and where it is needed in Lagos, Nigeria’s biggest city with a population of over 20 million.” Looking forward, we have the opportunity to drive better health outcomes through the hands of patients in Africa by empowering pushing information and data to the end user while concurrently investing in infrastructure.
Overall, AI will play an important role in guiding better health outcomes people worldwide, whether it be in discovering better medicines, getting the best medicines in the hands of the right patients, or monitoring their adherence to medication. No one technology will solve all problems, but if we can come together and form an ecosystem of technologies that drive impact across the healthcare value chain, then we can realize demonstrable and significant value. There is still a lot of work to be done, but the momentum is under our feet. I am excited and honored to join The Next Einstein Forum Global Gathering in Kigali, Rwanda this year to focus on exactly this, and connect with bright scientists on the continent to promote the uses and advancements of AI on the continent.
Cyclica is a Toronto, Canada-based, venture-backed company that is currently a resident company at Johnson & Johnson Innovation, JLABS @ Toronto, located in the center of the Innovation District. Cyclica is helping pharmaceutical companies reduce risk and better allocate resources in getting life-saving medicines to the market by leveraging technological insights.