AI-discovered drugs will be for sale sooner than you think

In February 2020—more than five decades after the science fiction film 2001: A space Odyseey introduced the world to perhaps the first great AI villain, HAL 9000—a team of researchers at the MIT Jameel Clinic used artificial intelligence (AI|) to discover an antibiotic capable of killing E coli, which hospitalises thousands of people a year, as well as an antibiotic-resistant strain of another common bacterial infection, Acinetobacter baumannii. And taking a page from 2001, they named it Halicin, after HAL 9000.

Scientists including the Jameel Clinic AI faculty lead, Regina Barzilay, and the Jameel Clinic life sciences lead, Jim Collins, trained their AI model by introducing it to approximately 2,500 molecules (1,700 of which were FDA-approved drugs, and 800 of which were natural products). Once the researchers trained the model to understand which molecules could kill E coli, the team ran 6,000 compounds through the system, including existing drugs, failed drugs, natural products, and a variety of other compounds. The system found halicin in a fraction of the time that traditional methods would take.