Artificial intelligence (AI) drug discovery is the process of applying advanced algorithms and machine learning to large biological and chemical datasets in order to find potential drug candidates. AI’s ability to rapidly and precisely analyze highly complex scientific data potentially results in faster discovery of drug candidates, reducing the time taken by a factor of 15 and offering a greater chance of success. Many large pharmaceutical companies are collaborating with AI companies to offer drug discovery services to speed up the delivery of medicines to the market.
Although there is no fully AI-developed drug yet on the market, a few drug candidates have already advanced into clinical trials. A drug discovered by the AI startup Exscientia’s drug discovery platform reached the clinical trial stage within 12 months instead of the five years expected for similar development in the traditional drug development process. AI models are also accelerating the delivery of repurposed Covid-19 drugs (meaning reusing existing drugs for new treatments) with a few currently being tested at the clinical trial stage.
The AI drug discovery industry consists of:
AI SaaS companies: A large number of startups in the AI drug discovery space operate as AI SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) companies providing their ML platform to other pharma companies. These pure play startups often specialize in a specific stage of the drug discovery process, and have not expanded into latter stages of drug development.
AI drug discovery and development companies: Majority of the well funded startups in the AI drug discovery space operate as drug discovery and development companies. These are biotechnology companies that have integrated AI as a core component of their in-house drug development process. They typically have a few in-house drug development programs and also collaborate with pharma companies to develop certain drugs.
Pharma incumbents: Large pharma companies operate in this space through collaborations with AI startups or tech companies or by developing in-house AI capabilities.
Tech incumbents: Tech companies which are known for their strong AI capabilities have also entered the industry and offer machine learning tools to support drug discovery. Tech incumbents simply offer ML tools and are not specialized in any particular segment. Hence, they are not included in the market map.
Over 90% of the startups are at the seed/early stages. Most AI SaaS platform operators are yet to achieve stable revenue despite collaborations with pharma companies. AI biotechnology startups have not commercialized their drug with only a few reaching the clinical trial stage.
Incumbents consist of large pharma companies which have integrated artificial intelligence (AI) into their drug development process in some form or entered into collaborations with AI startups and technology companies that offer AI-driven solutions for drug discovery.
Leading big pharma companies have developed in-house AI capabilities, but have not disclosed the extent to which AI is being used in the drug development process. All leading big pharma companies are actively engaged in collaborations with AI startups or tech companies. This is because building in-house capabilities to match the specialization offered by startups is challenging, especially with the scarcity of personnel skilled in both AI and biology.