Google-parent Alphabet has set up a new lab that will use A.I. to try to discover new drugs


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British artificial intelligence scientist and entrepreneur Demis Hassabis.
OLI SCARFF | AFP | Getty Images

Google parent company Alphabet has launched a new drug discovery company in the U.K. called Isomorphic Labs.

The company will build on research carried out by London artificial intelligence lab DeepMind, which Google acquired in 2014. While the firm was only officially announced on Thursday, it was incorporated in February, according to a filing with Companies House, the U.K. company registry.

Demis Hassabis, the CEO and co-founder of DeepMind, is also the founder and CEO of Isomorphic Labs. He will remain CEO of DeepMind.

In a blog post, Hassabis described Isomorphic Labs as a commercial venture with a mission to “reimagine the entire drug discovery process from the ground up.”

A spokesperson for Isomorphic Labs stressed that the company is separate from DeepMind and that it has its own dedicated resources. They stopped short, however, of saying how many staff or how much capital it has at its disposal.

“Where relevant, teams from both companies may collaborate, especially in the early days as Isomorphic Labs is hiring its team,” the spokesperson said.

Isomorphic Labs plans to use artificial intelligence software to create new drugs and medicines.

Identifying new drugs is a long, complex trial-and-error process that involves combining lots of different compounds in different ways. Several companies including London’s BenevolentAI and San Francisco’s Atomwise believe that AI can speed up the process.

“We believe that the foundational use of cutting edge computational and AI methods can help scientists take their work to the next level, and massively accelerate the drug discovery process,” wrote Hassabis, a former child chess prodigy with degrees in computer science and cognitive neuroscience from Cambridge and University College London, respectively.

“AI methods will increasingly be used not just for analyzing data, but to also build powerful predictive and generative models of complex biological phenomena,” he added.

Alphabet has several other companies working on health care including Verily, which is developing software for the health care sector, and Calico, which is working on ageing and extending the human life.

DeepMind has also worked on health care, and it used to have its own dedicated DeepMind Health division. However, this was absorbed by Google in 2018 after a controversial deal with Britain’s National Health Service.

Since then, DeepMind has pursued research in other areas of life science and it has made breakthroughs in a field known as protein folding. Last year, the company announced that it had developed an AI system that can accurately predict the structure that proteins will fold into in a matter of days, solving a 50-year-old “grand challenge.”

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