BIO-Europe 2023: Barriers remain in the AI ​​pharma revolution

Despite the shift towards artificial intelligence (AI) in drug discovery and development, AI-focused biotech technologies still have important hurdles to overcome, experts said at the recently concluded BIO-Europe 2023 conference. Najat Khan, chief data science officer at Janssen Research & Development, said the industry needs to tackle “lack of trust and skepticism due to lack of understanding”.

Khan spoke with other AI experts at the Nov. 7 “AI shaping therapeutics destiny” panel about the growing use of AI in pharma and weighing the ups and downs of the field. Thomas Clozel, CEO of AI biotech company Owkin, said companies are currently struggling to communicate their visions to investors.

He said the lack of overlap between tech and pharma investors often meant neither side could fully understand the value of the work being done by AI startups and scale-ups.

“A lot of innovation comes from scale-ups and startups, but they need funding,” Clozel said.

Khan also added that the lack of understanding could sometimes extend to the implementation of new technologies in a clinical context. She highlighted the current development of Janssen’s AI technologies to help stratify patients and find those who would be most responsive to a drug and best suited for clinical trials. She said there could be “difficulties in trial operations” if clinical research organizations or trial researchers are not on board with the new technology and processes.

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However, both experts were optimistic about the prospects for artificial intelligence in pharma. Clozel said: “AI brings ways to bring more causality [in drug development],” and says that traditional drug development often looks at the correlation between the drug and response in patients before understanding why that response occurs.

Khan added that multimodal AI methods incorporating multiomic and pathological knowledge allow a deeper understanding of the drug. This extends from the way the protein unfolds to the “biological basis of disease”.

Clozel said the next step lies in providing wider access to more data in a “federated way”. He said “data is everything,” so sharing insights is important for the continued improvement of the field.