Bill and Melinda Gates appear in the field working on a Gates Foundation project. (Source: Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)

Gates Foundation Bankrolls AI to Develop Small Molecule Therapeutics

Even though Bill and Melinda Gates have gone their separate ways as husband and wife, they are still working together on some projects. Writer Sam Shead wrote a piece for that lays out the latest investment the Gates have decided on. And this investment is all about small molecule therapeutics.

Oxford-headquartered Exscientia announced Wednesday that it has signed a four-year deal worth up to $70 million with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The start-up said it will use part of the funding to try to develop novel antiviral pills that could be used to treat Covid-19 and stop future pandemics from spreading.

Exscientia is focusing on developing treatments for Covid-19 and other coronaviruses, as well as influenza and animal-to-human virus Nipah, which can cause respiratory problems.

“The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic underscores the urgency to develop safe and effective broad-spectrum drugs to expand our armory against viruses and their variants,” Exscientia CEO Andrew Hopkins said in a statement.

While vaccines have provided populations with protection against Covid, there are a limited number of treatments available for patients who have tested positive.

“Small molecule therapeutics could provide a superior approach to guard global health,” said Denise Barrault, director of portfolio management at Exscientia, in a statement. “Certain targets are prevalent across families of viruses, meaning that potent therapeutics could be broadly effective across multiple virus families. This collaboration will focus on evaluating protein targets that are evolutionarily conserved and are less likely to develop resistance.”

Using AI to Speed Up Research

Even bigger news than the Gates investment is the fact that AI software is being used to develop these small molecule therapeutics at a much faster rate than humans ever could.

Exscientia claims that its AI software can reduce the amount of time it takes to discover new drugs by up to 80%. The firm, which signed a $1.2 billion deal with U.S. pharma firm Bristol Myers Squibb, already has several drugs involved in clinical trials.

Two of the company’s drugs, which are designed to treat psychiatric conditions, are being tested in partnership with Japanese drugmaker Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, for example. There’s also an oncology drug that Exscientia has developed independently.

The article doesn’t reveal just how much the Gates have invested but needless to say, it’s probably a substantial amount. That’s just how they roll.

And the use of AI in designing drugs is going to become more and more prevalent and vital in the years ahead. The development of the Carmatt AI heart should be enough to convince any skeptics that AI is nothing short of a medical miracle that becomes manifest. And that would not be possible without the help of the billionaires that many love to hate.