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Open Your Mind

It is universally acknowledged that the pharmaceutical industry can be conservative and slow to embrace change. With the health and safety of patients at stake if something should go wrong, this is hardly surprising. But does pharma’s skepticism run too deep?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine – a passionate supporter of artificial intelligence (read more here) and a true believer of its transformative potential in drug discovery. Insilico Medicine is working with Juvenescence to identify preclinical compounds, but there are other companies grabbing headlines in the AI/pharma space; take BenevolentAI, which is attempting to gain new insight into the molecular mechanisms of disease and to match patients to the right drug. The company was valued at $2 billion after its latest round of funding (1).

AI has been touted as a technology to watch for some time across diverse industries, so I was a little surprised when Alex told me about the skepticism and disinterest he’d encountered within big pharma.

“AI is moving too fast.”

“AI isn’t ready for primetime.”

AI is certainly new ground for pharma, so perhaps (healthy) skepticism is to be expected. But what about more established industry innovations, such as biosimilars? Biosimilars have been available in Europe for years but skepticism remains. In our cover feature, several experts tackle common safety “myths” and lay out the path towards more rapid adoption – in a word: education.

Both AI approaches and biosimilars have the potential to transform our industry. So it seems a shame that proponents must waste time and energy on the seemingly Sisyphean task of “arguing the case” rather than developing innovative lines of thinking. Though there will always be those who are ahead of the curve in science, perhaps pharma as a whole could benefit from keeping a more open mind – providing patient safety comes first, of course.

Roisin McGuigan

Deputy Editor

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  1. CNBC, “AI pharma start-up BenevolentAI now worth $2 billion after $115 million funding boost”, (2018). Available at: Accessed May 4, 2018.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a Deputy Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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