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Five years ago Alex Zhavoronkov didn’t see anything wrong with animal testing. Now the work his company does could lead to less animals being used to test medicine and cosmetics.
Insilico Medicine is using advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence to change the way drugs are taken from inception to trial.
Zhavronokov, Insilico’s CEO, says the R&D programs in the pharmaceutical industry have been on the decline. Fewer drugs are making it out of trials because of the way testing is done.
“There are just a few dozen drugs that are approved every year. Basically one of the reasons why there is such a decline in research and development is because animal testing is not very representative of what the human outcome will be,” he said. “Even though we are very similar to animals in many levels we are still very different, especially when it comes to complex systemic diseases.”
Insilico’s solution: using artificial intelligence instead of animals for most testing.
The deep-learning techniques used by Zhavoronkov and his team means they’re able to analyze how a compound will affect cells and also what drugs can be used to treat the cells (and the possible side effects).
“We need something better, and something better is creating a virtual human to simulate the activity of many drugs on many tissues at once,” Zhavoronkov said. “That can only be done using really deep data.”
The research the company is doing and the papers it has recently published may one day change medical trials. It has already changed the course of company.
“Advances in deep learning changed our company from a service provider catering to pharmaceutical companies into a drug discovery company,” said Dr. Qingsong Zhu, Insilico’s COO.
Currently Insilico is focusing on the cosmetics industry. Zhavoronkov said he wants to give companies the chance to use deep learning instead of turning to animal testing. And he’s taking the company global.
“In Europe animal testing with cosmetics is banned and they need really sophisticated models to test sunblocks, creams and all kinds of topical supplements,” he said.
The Insilico team doesn’t see animal testing ending completely but would like to minimize the practice to only when it is absolutely necessary.