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The promise of using AI for target identification and working with AstraZeneca

I have been talking about the benefits of using AI in drug discovery for what seems a very long time now, certainly long before it was fashionable to do so, and specifically the opportunity the technology presents to identify novel targets.

Using AI in the target identification process allows scientists to really explore all the available evidence to better understand a disease and its underlying biology. The technology can synthesise data, and then make inferences with regard to the best targets, in a way that would be impossible for an individual human, or even a team of people, to do. This allows the scientist to make more informed and therefore hopefully better decisions about which targets are most likely to succeed and in which patients they are most likely to be important.

It was exciting therefore last month, that we announced our partnership with AstraZeneca to do exactly that - use AI and machine learning for the discovery of potential new drug targets for chronic kidney disease and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

AstraZeneca had already announced in March 2019 that digital technologies including AI and ML would be core to the company’s strategy for future growth. So, I’m immensely proud that BenevolentAI has been chosen by AstraZeneca to work with them on helping to deliver this vision in two disease areas key to the company.

Right from the start of our discussions it was clear that the scientists at AstraZeneca knew what the opportunities were for our technology, but were also well aware of the challenges that bringing together our joint capabilities and data sets would bring. This meant that we were starting with an aligned understanding so we could quickly plan a joint strategy to implement a collaboration that worked for both companies.

As part of the collaboration, Benevolent will use its data integration platform to extend its proprietary Knowledge Graph with multiple AstraZeneca data sets across the two disease areas. Based on this disease-enhanced Knowledge Graph, Benevolent will employ its artificial intelligence platform to help scientists from both companies gain access to, and use the data, to drive innovation and make new discoveries together.

AstraZeneca is one of the most advanced pharmaceutical companies in terms of having an integrated company wide digital strategy and it bodes well for the UK pharmaceutical industry that two British companies are working together to drive efficiency and productivity.  But really this is about patients, and the positive outcomes we hope to achieve for those suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and chronic kidney disease.

Jackie Hunter, Board Director

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