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Strategic Intellectual Property Considerations for Protecting AI Innovations in Life Sciences

Artificial intelligence (“AI”) is all around us. It allows us to unlock our smartphones with just a glance. It can customise the temperature of our home or recommend television shows based on things we enjoyed watching before. It may soon drive our cars for us. Through the combination of increasing computing power and massive amounts of data, AI has made unprecedented advances in recent years in its ability to make predictions and solve problems. As a result, AI has become a vital part of our everyday lives.

And soon, the medications we take each day may also be identified and developed at least in part by AI. This article examines strategic intellectual property considerations for innovative pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies that are developing AI systems or using third-party systems to enhance drug discovery, clinical trials, manufacturing, or other processes.

  1. AI Is Transforming the Life Sciences Industry

AI and machine learning (“ML”) are revolutionising the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. While drug discovery may be the most well-known use of AI and ML in these fields, the technologies have a wide range of other applications in these industries, as shown in Figure 1 below. AI and ML are also accelerating innovation in developing pharmaceutical formulations, predicting protein structures, designing clinical trials and analysing the data, and speeding up manufacturing and ensuring better quality control.1,2,3

For many life sciences companies, data such as compound libraries may be among their most valuable assets. AI allows companies to leverage those data to more rapidly identify drug targets and advance them through clinical trials. As shown in Figure 2, AI can use those data sets to predict which compounds might have desired chemical or biological properties, drastically reducing the time needed to identify candidates for further laboratory or clinical testing.

As just one recent example, the biotechnology company Evotec recently announced a phase 1 clinical trial on an anticancer molecule that was co-invented and developed in partnership with Exscientia, whose AI platform technology computationally analyses the properties of millions of small-molecule candidates to identify a handful of suitable for further testing.4,5 Using AI allowed the companies to identify the candidate molecule in just 8 months.

AI thus has the power to reduce the time and costs of drug discovery and increase the number of new therapies available. A recent analysis by Morgan Stanley Research concluded that even modest improvements in early-stage drug development success rates made possible by AI and ML could lead to an additional 50 novel therapies over a 10- year period, reflecting a $50 billion market opportunity.6