Most drugs that pharmaceutical companies begin developing never make it to market. A Utah-based startup reckons it can find new uses for abandoned drugs, with the help of image-recognition software. It could be a boon for the treatment of rare diseases.
Drug development is an expensive, resource-heavy and slow business. It typically takes more than a decade and costs more than £1bn for a drug to make it from the lab to patients. But of drugs that begin preclinical testing, only five in 5,000 ever make it to clinical trials; and ultimately only one of those makes it to market. That means that decades’ worth of work and hundreds of millions of pounds are locked up in many thousands of drugs that no one has any use for. That is until now.
Drawing on open-source software developed at Harvard and MIT, a Salt Lake City startup is using image recognition and AI to find new uses for old drugs. By feeding software thousands of images of diseased cells, Recursion Pharmaceuticals works to identify whether any of the more than 2,000 drug compounds they are testing will make the sick cells more healthy.