Artificial Intelligence and life sciences-the great coming?

The Prism Series “pop up event” Cancer research UK December 2017

Christmas comes but once a year. To most of us this is a really good thing as it costs so much. We look forward to all the festivities, parties and of course the consumption of too much food and drink. Part of the annual festivities is the annual Genesis Life Sciences conference held in London, pretty much on the same date every year. The conference which is the brainchild of Tony Jones and his team brings together all of the UK life science community to participate in discussions, exchange business cards and sometimes do fantastic deals. Tony has over the last few years come up with the idea of the Genesis Conference Fringe. Based on the Edinburgh festival but with less jokes, or maybe not, various ‘pop up’ events occur. These are at various venues all around London and on assorted topics appealing to most peoples Biotech tastes.

I had the pleasure this December to facilitate such a ‘pop up’ event on Artificial Intelligence and Life Sciences . The style of the event was that of a Prism Series, basically representing an open authentic discussion where the objective is engagement and community rather than the more traditional information transmission format (a dead duck!).

The event was held at the Cancer Research UK headquarters at the Angel Islington London. A really cool building with the sense of energy and purpose, an ideal setting to bring together people with interest and vision in what is artificial intelligence with in the arena of life sciences .

A really interesting and engaged group of individuals turned up. They looked good and even trudged their way through the sleet and snow to attend.Seeing life sciences from all sorts of perspectives from drug hunters to digital health, from IP lawyers to Ventures capitalists, they seemed a good bunch to get together.

The discussion was facilitated and ‘disrupted’ by myself and an interesting colleague Sanjeev Ahuja.  We have really different but complementary backgrounds My  perspective coming form many years in the Pharma world and Sanjeev from a deep Knowledge of Artificial intelligence .

The big question posed was is Artificial Intelligence just a buzz word for the moment. A catch all statement , the fantasy of science fiction or something turning up that will be so powerful our entire lives will change. Driverless  cars seem a reality ,is it possible  to  leave machines to discover novel therapeutics ie our lives in their hands! Humanity  seems to be putting both a monetary bet and almost a semi religious hope on computer power to solve the problems of an ever aging population and  new diseases. The Pharma industry rooted in  academic history relies on experimentation and hypothesis proposition using ‘wet work’ cells and tissues. Can algorithms and computers revolutionise this.

After a few hours of excited inclusive debate, covering aspects of  AI from literature mining, drug repurposing to  open innovation ,few big answers really emerged. The discussion and debate was the success of the event.

Will AI ever replace serendipity and human imagination. Some of the participants were hard on the old human . Humans can only deal with a couple of “vectors “at a time whereas computers can deal with many said one participant .The younger generation is more likely to trust the data ! Was another comment. Trust and value were clearly a key to people investing in the big bucks needed to set up artificial intelligence systems .How and at what part of the drug discovery sand development process could and should Artificial intelligence be  inserted.

-Healthcare is about treating mechanisms not diseases, phenomenological approaches to  treatment is over ! Maths and logic are the future

  • Data consistency and curation are central
  • -verification and validation to build trust is needed
  • AI is being used at various parts of the discovery process not to speed up the process but for decision making

Some real power statements were made

-Artificial intelligence is the last great technological advancement humans can make …….WOW

  • China is leading the strategic way ,pushing hard on this new technology
  • US and China are in front.
  • The uk has tremendous academic expertise but struggles to commercialize .Could the life science sector lead the way in capitalizing on AI
  • If we are a knowledge economy we must be in this !

The meeting finished with high energy, people were inspired there was  the promise to have another event and event build an AI interest community. Lots of chat resulted and a great cappuccino of course  . The greatest complement came from a participant  who said they did not expect to say so much! this is the sort of event people want.

A lovely time and great people …..

To the next ………

Written by Tony Sedgwick