Artificial intelligence (AI) start-up Atomwise has raised $45 million in growth funding to develop its drug research technology.

The growth funding was led by Monsanto Growth Ventures, Data Collective and B Capital Group and brings Atomwise’s total capital raised to over $51 million.

Founded in 2012, Atomwise uses artificial intelligence to help discover new medicines and agricultural compounds in its “mission to become the preferred artificial intelligence partner for the world’s leading pharmaceutical, biotech, and agrochemical companies”.

“With our partners, Atomwise has brought the power of artificial intelligence to breakthrough research on deadly viruses, several forms of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, metabolic diseases, life-threatening bacteria, endemic parasites, and crop-blighting fungi in agriculture,” said Atomwise co-founder and CTO Dr Izhar Wallach. “With this funding, Atomwise is ready to help hundreds of organizations discover compounds that could become tomorrow’s blockbusters.”

Atomwise’s drug research technology AtomNet uses deep learning algorithms and elastic supercomputer platforms to make predictions about new potential medicines before they are made, reducing the time, cost and risk associated with clinical trials.

AtomNet is also designed to provide greater understanding of the toxicity, side effects, mechanism of action, and efficacy of a drug.

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By GlobalData

According to a statement made by the company, it has struck partnerships with four of the top-ten US pharma companies, multiple biotech firms, and over 40 major research universities. To date, Atomwise has launched more than 50 discovery projects.

The company says its system, which analyses simulations of molecules, identifies ‘active’ hit compounds at a rate 10,000 times higher than that of physical high-throughput screening methods.

The use of AI in drug discovery and development is gaining momentum in the pharmaceutical industry, with several major companies partnering with AI start-ups to use machine learning to aid their R&D. In June 2017, Roche announced that it would be partnering with GNS Healthcare to use its causal machine learning and simulation AI platform in cancer drug development. In the same year, Sanofi signed a $273m deal with Exscientia to utilise the company’s AI platform to identify combinations of synergistic drug targets. According to a report by Global Market Insights published in May 2017 the healthcare AI market is expected to be worth $10bn by 2024.

A report published by the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development in 2014 estimated that the cost of developing a prescription drug that gains market approval was around $2.6 billion and can take up to ten years.

Not only does AI speed up the process of identifying potential molecules for drug candidates, with Atomwise’s Atomnet able to screen more than ten million compounds every day, it could also make drug development more cost-effective. A 10% improvement in the ability to predict a drug’s efficacy could save an estimated $100m in development costs per drug.

AI can also be used to streamline drug pipelines. With less than 12% of drugs that enter clinical trials granted approval, the technology can be used to predict how well a drug will perform in future testing, lowering the number of drugs that go through clinical trials but ultimately fail.

Partner at B Capital Group Gavin Teo said: “The one-trillion dollar global pharmaceutical industry is rapidly shifting toward AI-driven R&D productivity and Atomwise is clearly leading this charge.”