Amidst all the doom & gloom about how AI will wipe out jobs in the fabled IT Services sector, here is a happier story related to AI. Anil Sasi focuses on how AI can help the sector which is India’s second largest export income after generator after IT Services:

“The limitations faced by the Indian pharma industry in making breakthroughs in new drug discovery is linked to the general lack of resources to compete with drug majors from the United States and Europe and the fact that most companies struggle to progress a drug beyond Phase II clinical research….”

Basically, since it costs in excess of $1 billion to develop a brand new drug, India’s pharma companies have never been able to pull this off inspite of having very talented chemists. What AI offers Indian pharma is a way to automate and accelerate much of that R&D grind and thus cut the cost of development.

So how will AI achieve this miracle? Mr Sasi gives an example of how AI is helping the pharma industry: “MIT researchers have unearthed a potent new antibiotic compound capable of treating infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria – the first new antibiotic discovery in the last 60 years. Facilitating the identification of this compound was a machine-learning algorithm, surpassing traditional experimental approaches by rapidly screening over a hundred million chemical compounds.”

As you would expect, Big Pharma in the West is already locking & loading into AI – Mr Sasi says that Merck and Pfizer are actively using GenAI. In fact, Merck has built a proprietary drug development platform using AI.

More encouragingly for Indian pharma, Google has developed a tool for drug discovery called AlphaFold which it sells to the pharma industry. AlphaFold was created by Deep Mind, a celebrated acquisition by Google, and predicts protein structures. Why is this useful for drug developers? “Given that a protein’s function is determined by its constituent amino acid chains fold up into three-dimensional shapes, knowing a protein’s structure can help potentially alter its behaviour by introducing a drug that binds the protein. The traditional methods for determining a protein’s structure have their limitations – being slow, capital intensive, and complicated….AlphaFold promises to solve this “protein folding problem”, by predicting the points where the folds would be optimum.”

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