The use of artificial intelligence in the discovery of new medical drugs has taken a step forward after Innovate UK announced £1 million funding for a new project.

The program will see Optibrium, which creates software to improve the efficiency and productivity of drug discovery, and Intellegens, a spin out from the University of Cambridge which is focused on ‘deep learning’, work with North-west based Medicines Discovery Catapult over the next two years.

The aim is to harness the power of AI to learn from complex data and guide scientists in the design and testing of potential new drugs.

Currently, high failure rates mean that nine out of ten potential drugs fail somewhere between phase 1 trials and regulatory approval, greatly adding to the costs of creating new medicines.

The growth in computer-processing power, availability of large data sets, development of advanced algorithms and major improvements in machine learning presents a great opportunity for drug discovery.

The technology and models created as a result of this project will help guide the selection and design of compounds early in the discovery process, to more quickly identify candidate drugs with a higher chance of success and lower development risk.

The research partners are seeking a means of providing better insights into how a drug interacts with the body, improving the efficiency and productivity of drug discovery.

“We are delighted to lead this project in collaboration with Medicines Discovery Catapult and Intellegens,”said Optibrium CEO Matthew Segall.

“We will apply cutting edge deep learning methods and new data to address important challenges in drug optimisation. The funding from Innovate UK is important validation of our project team’s expertise and the impact it will have on the industry’s efficiency and productivity.”

Professor John Overington, chief informatics officer of Medicines Discovery Catapult, said: “At Medicines Discovery Catapult we apply innovation, working alongside UK SMEs to drive the development and adoption of new approaches for the discovery and early development of new medicines.

“This collaborative R&D activity will allow us to do just that and the grant from Innovate UK represents an important milestone for the advancement of informatics and data science.”

Ben Pellegrini, CEO of Intellegens, said: “Intellegens is extremely excited to be part of this collaboration and looks forward to applying our novel deep learning techniques to help build a next generation platform to improve the drug discovery process.”