Four big pharma companies team up in AI initiative focused on drug R&D


Four pharmaceutical industry giants are joining forces to back startups that apply artificial intelligence and computational biology to drug research.

AstraZeneca, Merck, Pfizer and Teva Pharmaceutical are contributing to an initiative called AION Labs. The pharmaceutical expertise of the life science companies will be combined with technology know-how from Amazon Web Services and the investment experience of the Israel Biotech Fund.

AION Labs will create and invest in startups focused on applying artificial intelligence and computational biology to overcome challenges in drug discovery and development. The innovations and scientific founders will come from around the world. They’ll have the opportunity to work in a wet lab for biomedical research, as well as a cloud-based computational lab that will be focused on developing new algorithms and computational methods for use in the discovery and development of new therapies. Both labs will be guided by researchers and experts from the partner companies that formed AION Labs.

The new startup hub comes with support from the Israeli government. The Israel Innovation Authority, an economic development agency of the government, identified life sciences as an area for growth and potential investment. Last December, the collaboration that would become AION Labs won a government bid to establish an innovation lab.

The goals of the startups formed by AION Labs include finding new treatments faster and more efficiently, avoiding animal experiments, and advancing healthcare towards patient-centric precision medicine. AION Labs will work in partnership with BioMed X, a Heidelberg, Germany-based biomedical research institute that has seeded biomedical innovations straddling academic research and the pharmaceutical industry. AION Labs will be led by CEO Mati Gill, a former Teva executive.

“Our R&D needs-based approach, coupled with our outstanding alliance, is poised to transform the process of therapeutic discovery and development,” Gill said in a prepared statement. “With a strong talent pool, AI technology at our core and a significant commitment of the Israeli government, we hope to contribute to the health and well-being of humankind.”

Photo: Menahem Kahana, Getty Images

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