With an investment of US$400 million, Hong Kong company Insilico Medicine recently began phase 2 clinical trials of its first drug designed entirely by artificial intelligence (AI). The inauguration this Friday in Montreal of its Canadian headquarters aims to accelerate the development of other similar drugs.
Insilico Medicine announced earlier this summer that its treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis became the first drug designed by generative AI to reach the stage of human clinical trials. The treatment in question required two years of development using a software platform called Pharma.ai and created internally by Insilico Medicine.
As things can move quickly in the pharmaceutical sector, the young company specializing in medical technologies says it currently has around thirty other drug projects designed by AI in its laboratories, five of which are approaching the stage of clinical trials on humans, if they are not already there.
AI and pharma all in one
One feature of Insilico Medicine that allows it to move so quickly is that the company is made up of two separate units: the first works on the machine learning and reinforcement algorithms that bring its AI to life, while the another collects what this same AI produces to transform it into potential drugs.
“It’s true, we do both,” said in an interview with Duty the president of Insilico Medicine Canada, Petrina Kamya. “We have a CEO for the software division and a CEO for the pharmaceutical part. »
Insilico Medicine Canada became a member, last June, of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal with a view to establishing itself in the Quebec metropolis. Thanks to an investment on its part of 2.8 million dollars, it can today confirm that it is permanently settling in Quebec, with the objective of increasing the number of its employees in the province from 14 to 60.
The role of the newcomers will be one focused on technology, specifies Petrina Kamya. “We have already found several potential AI applications,” she says. We have developed three of them, but we are continuing to develop other tools. As our medical team uses our AI, we can better understand which stages of drug development where AI can help the most. »
Pharma in the viewfinder
Insilico Medicine did not request public funding to establish itself in Montreal. It was strictly the city’s reputation for medical research and AI that attracted the company here. In addition to its headquarters in Hong Kong, it has offices in New York, San Francisco and Abu Dhabi, among others.
“We are already well established,” assures its Canadian boss. “We already have 42 customers and partners around the world, including pharmaceutical giants Sanofi, Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly. We also have partnerships with the University of Toronto. We are talking with other universities here, because we want to establish a lasting foothold in Canada. »
The arrival in Montreal of a company that already has some expertise in designing medical treatments using AI models is good news for the Quebec and even Canadian pharmaceutical sector. Drug discovery using AI is a strong trend in the industry at present.
Developing new drugs costs billions of dollars and can take up to fifteen years to complete — and success is not always guaranteed.