For the first time ever, a human drug has been created entirely by artificial intelligence (AI). This news comes from a team at Flinders University in Australia, who claims to have created an enhanced influenza vaccine using an AI program known Search Algorithm for Ligands (SAM). Though computers have been used to make drugs before, this was the first time it was done independently by an AI system.
The researchers described this drug as a flu vaccine with an added compound that better stimulates the human immune system. This addition causes more antibodies to be formed against the flu virus than with the traditional vaccination, increasing the vaccine’s efficacy.
Nikolai Petrovsky, Professor at Flinders University and leader of the work noted that the AI essentially searched for all possible compounds to find a working drug. To the best of his knowledge, this was the first flu vaccine to be created with AI that had advanced to human trials.
“We had to teach the AI program on a set of compounds that are known to activate the human immune system, and a set of compounds that don’t work,” he explained. “The job of the AI was then to work out for itself what distinguished a drug that worked from one that doesn’t. We then developed another program, called the synthetic chemist which generated trillions of different chemical compounds that we then fed to SAM so that it could sift through all of these to find candidates that it thought might be good human immune drugs.” Petrovsky also serves as the Research Director at Vaxine, an Australian biotechnology company.
Once SAM had identified some potential treatments, the researchers recreated them in a lab and tested their effects on human blood cells. Petrovsky noted that these tests showed that SAM not only chose good treatment candidates but that it actually found compounds that outperformed existing therapies. These treatments that SAM had created were then developed and tested in animals to “confirm their ability to boost influenza vaccine effectiveness.”
This use of AI has the potential to expedite the treatment discovery process by decades according to Petrovsky and can save hundreds of millions in spending as well. The team’s research is underway with 12-month clinical trials being conducted in the US. These trials are funded by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is a part of the National Institutes of Health. The study will aim to analyze roughly 240 volunteers to see how they respond to the vaccine.
“We already know from animal testing that the vaccine is highly protective against flu, outperforming the existing vaccines,” Petrovsky said. “Now we just need to confirm this in humans.”
This use of AI not only facilitates the drug discovery process but can find more optimal treatments than humans can as well. Using neural networks that mimic the human brain, this technology can process much more information than the human brain.
Petrovsky feels that AI could become strongly integrated into the drug development process within the next 20 years. Within the next three years, he believes that his team’s vaccine could be available to the general public.
“Given the need and the pull to provide a better flu vaccine this is not something that’s going to sit on the shelf for the next 10 years,” he concluded.
— Exponential Medicine (@ExponentialMed) July 15, 2019