Depending on your point of view, artificial intelligence (AI) can create jobs, make life easier and solve many global problems; or, it will cause mass unemployment, take over the world, and enslave humanity.
In the life sciences space, AI is able to overcome some of the biggest challenges when it comes to tasks like drug discovery and data analysis. Several countries have adopted the new technology that is available, and one of them is Ireland.
To tell us about the Irish approach, and how it is staying at the forefront of this field, is Jennie Lynch, senior vice president, life sciences at Enterprise Ireland. Enterprise Ireland is the government organization responsible for the development and growth of Irish companies on the world market.
Drug development transformation
So how is AI changing the landscape of the biopharma industry in Ireland and beyond?
Lynch said nearly every aspect of the industry was impacted. He said it transformed the discovery of new candidates for drug development, and significantly reduced the time and costs associated with bringing drugs from the molecule to market through clinical trials and better manufacturing processes.
“The advent of intelligent automation and advanced algorithms can also lead to the analysis of complex chemical structures and predicting new structures that are likely to produce successful drug candidates,” said Lynch.
“Virtual screening can then use existing datasets to simulate potential chemical reactions, speeding up the clinical trial process and ultimately leading to better outcomes for patients.”
Lynch explained that the algorithm can now analyze large patient electronic health record (EHR) datasets to identify patients who are likely to respond well to certain drugs, meaning conditions that were previously incurable are treatable – a concept that was impossible before the advent of AI.
Once a drug is approved for use, said Lynch, AI also enables great efficiencies in the manufacturing process with algorithms designed to improve the applied process design and improvement stages, and to detect optimal manufacturing parameters – thereby reducing development time and waste.
Faster and better
Of course, there are concerns that AI will have a disastrous impact on the number of jobs in the countries pushing it to the forefront. However, Lynch is not sure this is the case.
“The general consensus is that technology is not replacing people, so I don’t think there should be a negative focus on the rise of AI from an employment perspective. I think the emphasis should be more on the fact that AI will enable innovators to do things faster and better, and potentially generate key learnings and insights that weren’t possible before,” he stressed.
There are already rumors in several countries that laws could be introduced to regulate AI.
Lynch said: “The regulatory framework overseeing the development and manufacturing processes for bringing new drugs to market needs to be updated to take advances in AI technology into account. For example, traditionally, drugs were tested on animals before moving to humans – however, with AI and machine learning, it is possible to leverage pre-existing human model data to ascertain insights into the efficacy of new drugs or solutions. These sensitive types of drug and patient data will be vulnerable to cybersecurity issues, which the FDA recently noted through its Cybersecurity Modernization Action Plan to improve cybersecurity of AI systems.”
In Europe, he added, the European Union has proposed an AI law, which would specifically relate to the AI of the main regulators and would define risk across several different categories.
The law, he said, would also update liability rules for manufacturers in an effort to standardize AI safety at the national level. Lynch said countries need to collaborate and align AI policies and laws to ensure a fair and transparent approach when deploying this technology.
The time for AI is now
Ireland has long been at the forefront of adopting new technologies, and while AI and machine learning are not progressing as they should, companies need to adopt and adapt to new technologies. But how do they keep going?
Lynch said while the emergence of AI-based drug discovery has grown significantly over the past decade, there is still a significant way to go before industry-wide utilization of this technology becomes widespread.
“With that in mind, the time to consider how best to implement AI-based solutions is now – to reduce development time, reduce overall costs, and improve patient outcomes. Enterprises looking to combine AI and machine learning should look at how these technologies can augment and/or enable pre-existing processes in their value chain and incorporate AI in parallel with pre-existing services,” said Lynch.
And Enterprise Ireland can help with the process.
“Enterprise Ireland is committed to providing support to companies seeking to grow and develop while driving technological advancement and innovation. Enterprise Ireland provides the necessary support to enable companies to achieve competitive advantage through the development of new solutions, leading to better results across the pharmaceutical sector.”
Technology investment for AI in Ireland
Indeed, on 6 June, Ireland’s Minister of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD and Minister of State for Trade Promotion and Digital Transformation, Dara Calleary TD together with Enterprise Ireland announced €47 million ($50.2 million) funding for the continuation of the Gateway Program Irish Enterprise Technology through 2029.
Charged with an increased level of interaction between Irish Industry and the University of Technology (TU) and Institute of Technology (IoT), this program is co-financed by the Government of Ireland and the European Union through the ERDF South, East & Midland Regional Program 2021-27 and North & West Regional Program 2021 -27.
To date, more than 4,500 companies have spent €60 million ($64.1 million) through 17 Technology Gateways collaborating with researchers at TU & IoT. The majority of these companies are small and medium-sized businesses who gain access to facilities and knowledge that would not be available to them without Technology Gateways. The role of Gateway staff is to mobilize talent from the host institution’s research base to provide technical solutions to Irish industry.
Ireland: hub for health technology and AI
Lynch said Ireland was recognized globally as a leading health technology hub, featuring world-class researchers, innovative indigenous companies, leading global multinationals, clinical specialists and ancillary service providers.
“As technology evolves and markets change, Ireland has worked hard to maintain its significant position as a leading provider of innovation in the pharmaceutical sector over the years,” said Lynch.
He pointed to several Irish innovators and entrepreneurs, who are at the heart of this thriving ecosystem, as one example BioSimulytica company that uses AI to digitize the critical steps in designing new drug molecules, to change the success rate of new drug development.
Akkure is a patient-focused digital platform that uses AI to match patient data with the most relevant clinical trials Biology is an AI-powered monitoring platform for pharmacovigilance and safety screening for medical devices, cosmetics or animal products.
Lynch also highlighted Nuritas, which uses its AI tool ‘Nuritas Magnifier’ to find unique bioactive peptides. another company, Deciphexleveraging AI to enable pathologists to drive high-quality and efficient reporting, improve patient care, and accelerate drug development.
ICON is another company using AI to accelerate patient recruitment, site selection, protocol optimization, and clinical trial design. By leveraging machine learning algorithms, ICON can more efficiently identify patients eligible for clinical trials, increasing the speed at which clinical trials can be conducted. This leads to faster drug development, ultimately benefiting patients who may receive life-saving treatment more quickly.
It’s one thing to be at the forefront of technology, but how can Lynch believe Ireland will remain at the forefront as technology advances?
“Irish innovators and entrepreneurs must embrace advances in AI and machine learning, and leverage the capabilities of these technologies to advance their own new solutions in the pharmaceutical space,” Lynch concluded.
“Through AI optimization, Irish companies can tap into the exponential possibilities of this technology, and ultimately deliver better outcomes for those who need them most.”