AI created medicine trialled on humans in world-first

5 years for medication could be a thing of the past. Source: Flickr

By Holly Giles

5 year wait for medication could be a thing of the past. Source: Flickr

Automatic intelligence (AI)  has been arguably one of the biggest inventions in the last century  and its advancements are still being made everyday. This month AI has been breaking headlines again by creating its first medicine with no human input. 


This medication for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was created using algorithms that allowed the machine to sift through thousands of potential medications and testing them against different parameters. This process normally takes 5 years for humans to take a drug from conception to human trial but the machine has only taken 12 months. This drastic reduction in time was highlighted by the chief executive for the company behind the project, Professor Andrew Hopkins, as a “key milestone in drug discovery.” Hopkins added; “This year was the first to have an AI-designed drug but by the end of the decade all new drugs could potentially be created by AI.”


It is not only OCD that can benefit from this technological breakthrough. The firm, Exscientia and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, are already working on treatments for cancer and cardiovascular diseases. The team hopes these molecules will also be ready for human trials by the end of 2020. The firm says this hasn’t been a difficult conversation as the “the beauty of the algorithm is that they are agnostic, so can apply to any disease”; this means that future medications may be able to be created even faster, making the five year window a thing of the past.


AI’s have already been playing a large role in diagnosis and treatment of patients but this is the first time medication has been created and has led to many becoming skeptical. Hopkins defended his project by saying; “Active Learning [the subcategory of AI used here] algorithms automatically prioritize the most informative compounds for experimental synthesis and testing and enable the system to learn faster than humans alone.” AI’s are already being used by researchers to track the spread of the Coronavirus and to tackle the opioid crisis in America. 


It may be reassuring to many that although the development time for the drug has been fast tracked it is still required to undergo the same clinical trials and human testing so will not be seen on the mainstream commercial market for many years due to the nature and complexity of these tests.


The human trials are scheduled to begin in March 2020. Only then can the success of AI in designing medications be concluded but it appears to be a natural progression of the AI’s role in medicine and healthcare. 


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