Pharma Companies are Relying on AI for Medical Breakthroughs – Here’s Why it’s Not a Good Idea

on December 29 | in Pharmaceuticals | by | with No Comments

As each passing year brings advancements in the use of artificial intelligence (AI), big data and machine learning, it is no surprise that the pharma industry is also embracing these three components. While they are hailed as major proponents of change, Big pharma’s interest in AI dates back to 2013.

Berg, a U.S startup was approached by the Department of Defense to help improve detection of prostate cancer. This condition was very common among pilots and late detection was a leading issue in deaths.

In less than 5 years, a prototype was developed, involving the use of AI and tested on over 1,000 different patients. The results were very promising and caused a stir in tech-focused health startups. While there is still a lot of debate about the use of AI for drug development, millions of dollars have already begun to be invested in this area.

This hope is largely based on the belief that “something revolutionary” will be produced that will minimize the costs of research and development, reduce errors and more.

A Fruitful Year for AI and Pharma

In 2018, 15 companies have already started integrating AI for their drug and discovery processes. Partnerships are also being founded and big names like Sanofi, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and more are already collaborating. Pooling resources together is the best option that has helped to speed up research. Novartis is already hopeful about registering an AI-developed drug part in the next 3 years. Pfizer is also utilizing AI to mine in-house patient data to aid in the identification of rare heart conditions.

The good news here is that this interest in the AI is not just limited to the U.S. In the U.K, the government will be funding the introduction of 5 different technology-based centers. They will be making use of AI to help with and accelerate the process of diagnosis and improve the quality of the National Health Service. The centers are set to open in 2019 and their success will dictate the opening of similar centers across the nation.

It’s Not All Rainbows and Butterflies

One of the major problems with the research and development process is that it takes so much time and money. On average, it can take around 12 years or more and cause costs of up to $2 billion for a pharma company to bring a drug to the market. Clinical testing is also a necessary part where most new drugs have failed heavily.

Current statistics also show that while the returns on the drugs have decreased, the spending has actually increased, in 2017. It’s also a trend that shows little signs of improvement. Now, add in the heavy costs that AI can incur and this is a very big gamble that pharma companies are taking. While there is hope that using AI will improve productivity, most are hoping that improvements in this area will translate into reduced costs.

There is also a noted lack of AI specialists and many companies are showing skepticism regarding how useful AI will be. Most have said that while AI might help with drug research, it will not be able to successfully drive down the costs that are associated with it. It’s best to keep a more realistic approach with AI.

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