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AI-Driven Biology Can Get Critical Medicines To Patients Faster

One of the challenges of modern healthcare is getting very specific, targeted medicine to patients quickly. Artificial intelligence (AI) has already demonstrated how it can transform data analysis in healthcare, and now it is helping bring drugs to patients faster.

Absci, a synthetic biology company that recently went public, is using an AI-powered platform for protein discovery and production to help pharmaceutical companies create drugs that were previously impossible to make. The platform accelerates preclinical development of new treatments for complex diseases like cancers and autoimmune disorders.

Faster Drug Development

According to Sean McClain, founder and CEO of Absci, the company helps cut the timeline of drug discovery and development from years to months or weeks, particularly in protein therapeutics. Absci’s AI and machine learning technology also help pharmaceutical companies rapidly determine if potential medicines can hit disease targets while also being scalable for commercialization, cutting out years of iterative trial and error. 

One of the company’s projects is developing a type of cell therapy called T-cell engagers where one side of a protein binds to a particular cell and the other side binds to a T-cell. T-cell engagers show potential in treating cancers by directing T-cells (immune cells) to attack tumor cells.

The proteins Absci discovers are the actual drug candidates. But proteins need to be produced in a living organism, so they use E. coli cell lines (engineered E. coli species) for manufacturing. Absci makes proteins with E. coli instead of mammalian cells like other companies because it is more efficient and enables new protein designs. 

“Many of the next generation biologics that we are helping discover are for oncology. The big focus within the industry is using these protein-based therapies to cure cancers,” says McClain.

Going Public On the Path to In Silico

Earlier this year, pharmaceutical giant Merck
MRK invested in Absci and announced potential drug discovery collaborations. On July 22, Absci went public with an initial public offering of 14,375,000 shares of common stock. 

“The day we went public was extremely emotional and thrilling. It was 10 years in the making to get to that point. But it was also a reflection of our history, and all the amazing work we have done at Absci,” says McClain. “Looking forward, in the next 10 years, we are going to be the Google

GOOG
of synthetic biology.”

McClain believes Absci can be the next Google because both companies have unprecedented access to data. The reason why Google has not been displaced in the market is because of data it owns and generates. McClain says Absci can screen billions of different drug candidates to look at protein functionality and manufacturability in a single experiment. All of this data is fed into the company’s deep learning models. Ultimately, their goal is to be able to go fully in silico (production via computer modeling or simulation).

“No one else has access to this proprietary data on protein functionality and manufacturability. This is essentially going to allow us to go from patient sample to drug in the clinic fully in silico with a click of a button,” says McClain.

Pairing Biology and AI

The pairing of biology and AI is at the forefront of healthcare and can transform the future of medicine. “We have the ability to change the world. We are getting better drugs to patients at truly unprecedented speeds thanks to merging biology and AI together,” says McClain.

By using data and AI, it is possible to create new treatments for cancers and other diseases. AI and machine learning can also make personalized medicine happen faster and easier.

Thank you to Lana Bandoim for additional research and reporting in this article. I’m the founder of SynBioBeta, and some of the companies that I write about, including AbSci, are sponsors of the SynBioBeta conference and weekly digest. 

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