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S. Korean Biopharmaceutical Firm Seeks to Develop New Drugs with AI Technology
AI Tech-based Drug Development
S. Korean Biopharmaceutical Firm Seeks to Develop New Drugs with AI Technology
  • By Choi Mun-hee
  • January 4, 2018, 03:00
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Korean biopharmaceutical companies are seeking to develop new drugs with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.
Korean biopharmaceutical companies are seeking to develop new drugs with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.


South Korean biopharmaceutical companies are seeking to develop new drugs with artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

According to industry sources on January 3, Seegene Inc. succeeded in developing molecular diagnostic assays by using a newly created AI based assay development system. These assays are high multiplex real-time PCR reagents developed in their entirety by AI and are designed to simultaneously detect eight different DNA targets for each of meningitis and sexually transmitted infections. Seegene has become the world’s first company developing diagnosis reagents utilizing the AI technology.

The KOSDAQ-listed company set up the AI system with big data on pathogen and disease information accumulated over the last 15 years. This innovative AI-based automated assay development system simplifies a complicated research and development process through its self-developed algorithm and virtual experiment. Seegene also reduced the diagnosis reagent development period from one year to just four days by using the AI-based system.

CJ Healthcare Corp. has signed an agreement with genome and exome data analysis firm Syntekabio Inc. last month to co-develop a new anticancer immunotherapy using an AI model. Dong-A ST Co. has joined hands with the u-Health Information Research Institute at Ajou University from 2016 to develop new drugs by analyzing big data on patients’ medical records with the AI technology. CrystalGenomics Inc. is also working together with AI-based novel drug developer PharminoGen Inc.

In addition to private companies, the government and the industry will establish a new drug development system using the AI technology. The Ministry of Science and ICT plans to inject 349 billion won (US$326.84 million) into a bio and fundamental technology development project in 2018. It has allocated  
59.4 billion won (US$55.61 million) in the new drug development sector. It will also build a platform using AI and big data.

The Korea Pharmaceutical and Bio-Pharma Manufacturers Association (KPBMA) plans to launch an AI center establishment promotion tem to be led by Lee Dong-ho, former president of the Korea Drug Development Fund, this month. The team will introduce the new AI-based drug development technology best fit to the demand of the industry and create the foundation of service environments for a year. Currently, the task force team is participated in by 18 companies such as Hanmi Pharmaceutical Co., Green Cross Corp. and Daewoong Pharm Co. as well as Dong-A ST.

An official from the KPBMA said, “Countries across the world are seeking to develop new drugs by utilizing the AI technology but it is impossible in reality for domestic pharmaceutical firms to introduce the system by themselves. The association has pushed ahead with the related project in order to help the industry improve its competitiveness.” The AI technology can dramatically reduce the cost and time of development. This is because the technology can collect and analyzes a vast amount of data and optimize them for clinical tests as well as predict side effects and action mechanism.

In general, a researcher needs to examine 200 to 300 cases of data for a year in order to develop a new drug. However, the AI system, like IBM’s Watson, can go through more than 1 million dissertations and analyze clinical test data for over 4 million people in just one research project. In fact, U.S.-based venture firm Atomwise discovered two new drug candidates effective in treating Ebola in just one day.

Global leading biopharmaceutical companies are also proceeding new drug development projects utilizing AI systems. Janssen Pharmaceutical Co., a subsidiary of multinational pharmaceutical firm Johnson & Johnson, has teamed up with U.K.-based firm Benevolent AI to develop new drugs. Through the partnership, it discovered two kinds of treatments for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. Pfizer Co. has adopted IBM’s cloud-based AI platform Watson for Drug Discovery to help magnify its research efforts in new drugs. Israeli drug maker Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is co-developing the treatments for respiratory and central nervous system diseases with IBM.

In Japan, the RIKEN, a large research institute run by the government, in cooperation with Kyoto University, is proceeding a project funded by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). For the project, 100 scientists and engineers are teamed up to develop an AI system specialized in new drug development. The MEXT has invested 110 billion won (US$103.14 million) in the project.