The longevity and biotechnology industries are focusing on aging in a big way, and it’s beginning to show.
The fields of AI and regenerative medicine are putting their money on combating aging and age-related diseases, and the benefits are likely to be immense.
While biotechnology and AI are relatively new concepts, the announcements of funding and collaboration yesterday by and between three companies are bringing those concepts that much closer to the forefront of medicine.
Insilico Medicine, a Baltimore-based next-generation AI company specializing in the application of deep learning for target identification, drug discovery and aging research, yesterday announced a collaboration agreement with WuXi AppTec, a leading global contract research outsourcing provider based in Shanghai, China, serving the pharmaceutical, biotech, and medical device industries.
“It's a big step not only for Insilico Medicine but for AI and the pharmaceutical industries,” said Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, CEO of Insilico Medicine, Inc. He said under terms of the agreement, WuXi AppTec will partner with Insilico to test the company’s newly discovered molecules developed to combat the aging process as well as age-related diseases.
At the same time, AgeX Therapeutics, Inc., a subsidiary of BioTime, Inc.—which is focused on prolonging healthspan through an understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of human aging—announced yesterday that it has closed on a $5 million equity financing deal, through the sale of two million AgeX common shares to Juvenescence Ltd. BioTime now owns approximately 80.6% of AgeX’s outstanding shares, and Juvenescence and its principals own approximately 7%.
AgeX has been in collaboration with Insilico for some time in the company’s quest to discover molecular targets in regenerative medicine. And Juvenescence will be taking Insilico molecules to clinical trials to develop drugs against age-related diseases.
Founded in 2017, Juvenescence Limited is a biotech company focused on developing therapeutics to increase healthy human longevity and slow, halt or potentially reverse the elements of aging and age-related diseases.
Since its formation, Juvenescence has raised $63 million from a variety of international investors.
Zhavronkov said the actions of all three companies—WuXi App Tec, AgeX and Juvenescence—underscores the importance AI and regenerative medicine will play in the future of medicine, while at the same time securing a much-needed partnership with companies in the East.
“This collaboration brings us closer to developing more therapies to help us combat age-related disease,” Zhavoronkov said.
“But I think this really shows that China is becoming a bigger player in AI. The emergence of China in AI—in research in particular—shows they are no longer a follower. So the U.S. needs to invest in AI and biotech more than in military or trade wars that only make geo-political tensions worse. Investing in biotech benefits everyone on the planet. It’s a pretty good trend.”
Zhavoronkov said he was surprised to learn that studying aging until now was not on the top of China’s list of pursuits.
“I have learned in my travels that even with 1.3 billion people in China, they avoid studying aging. The word aging in Chinese has a different feel to the ear. Some perceive it as negative. There are more scientists in China than in the U.S., and yet very few are studying aging. So the fact that they are investing in Insilico, an age-related AI biotechnology company, makes quite a statement.”
“WuXi AppTec and Insilico Medicine have built a close relationship over the past year with a mutual vision that artificial intelligence and machine learning will make the drug discovery process more efficient by increasing the probability of success at the pre-clinical level," said Dr. Ge Li, Chairman of WuXi AppTec Group. "We have experienced first-hand how Insilico Medicine's domain expertise in artificial intelligence and deep neural networks, along with WuXi AppTec's capability platform, can significantly impact drug discovery and eventually fulfill our dream that every drug can be made, every disease can be treated.”
The transaction was a joint effort between WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund and WuXi AppTec’s Research Services Division.
“With the investment in Insilico Medicine, we are now taking our partnership to the next level by establishing a closer integration within WuXi AppTec’s own research capabilities to better serve the biopharmaceutical industry,” said Mr. Edward Hu, Chief Financial Officer and Chief Investment Officer of WuXi AppTec. “We have been looking to collaborate with artificial intelligence-enabled technologies to enhance the drug discovery and development process. What impressed us the most about Insilico Medicine was the breadth of its technological capabilities and applications, ranging from target identification and small molecule generation using next-generation artificial intelligence to expertise in blockchain and aging research.”
Zhavronkov said he is confident that treatments if not cures are going to come out of the investments announced yesterday. “Any capitol deployment of this size is going to result in products.” But it will also result in jobs, he said, relaying that as Insilico increases its experiments, it will also increase its number of scientists and overall employees.
And AgeX is standing right along side them. “AgeX is positioned to be a leader in developing therapeutics targeting some of the most compelling opportunities in the commercial market associated with aging,” said Dr. Greg Bailey, M.D. CEO of Juvenescence. “We have undertaken considerable research into the various strategies which could effectively address aging and age-related disease. The team at Juvenescence has concluded that the AgeX science and IP concerning cell immortality and regenerative biology are among the most promising of all of those technologies. In our opinion, AgeX portfolio is positioned to be indispensable in addressing unmet clinical needs in age-related degenerative disease.”
Insilico's molecules were discovered using the company’s generative adversarial networks (GAN) and reinforcement learning (RL)-based drug discovery pipelines—a drug discovery process for pharmaceutical companies using artificial intelligence and deep learning—both of which will be tested at WuXi AppTec.
The new research collaboration with WuXi AppTec will enable Insilico to perform the rapid experimental validation of the molecules discovered using AI and generate the valuable data to advance its AI research.Zhavoronkov pioneered the applications of GANs and RL techniques for generating new molecular structures with properties specifically designed to combat disease. He set up research and development centers in six countries including Korea, Russia and Taiwan and launched multiple biomarker initiatives including Young.AI.
Insilico is an artificial intelligence company headquartered at the Emerging Technology Centers at the Johns Hopkins University Eastern campus in Baltimore, with research and development and management resources in Belgium, Russia, UK, Taiwan and Korea sourced through hackathons and competitions.
“The company and its scientists are dedicated to extending human productive longevity and transforming every step of the drug discovery and drug development process through excellence in biomarker discovery, drug development, digital medicine and aging research,” Zhavoronkov said.
Prior to founding Insilico Medicine, Zhavoronkov worked in senior roles at ATI Technologies, NeuroG Neuroinformatics, the Biogerontology Research Foundation and YLabs.AI. Since 2012, Zharoronkov has published over 80 peer-reviewed research papers and books including
“The Ageless Generation: How Biomedical Advances Will Transform the Global Economy.” He is also the co-organizer of the Annual Aging Research for Drug Discovery Forum and the AI and Blockchain for Healthcare Forum at EMBO/Basel Life, one of Europe's largest industry events in drug discovery. Zhavoronkov holds two bachelor degrees from Queen’s University, a master’s in biotechnology from Johns Hopkins University, and a PhD in physics and mathematics from Moscow State University.
Insilico is currently pursuing internal drug discovery programs in cancer, dermatological diseases, fibrosis, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, ALS, diabetes, sarcopenia and aging in general.
Zhavoronkov said the companies hope to discover drugs that will actually make it to and through clinical trials.
“More than 90% of the molecules discovered using the traditional techniques and tested in mice fail in human clinical trials. Our goal is to develop advanced end-to-end AI solutions to discover the optimal pre-clinical candidates,” he said.
“Our collaboration with WuXi AppTec enables us to focus on artificial intelligence without the need to invest in the expensive laboratory infrastructure. It also enables us to collaborate with some of the world’s brightest medicinal chemists and biologists to optimize the drug development process.”
With 16,000 employees, 28 research and development facilities worldwide and $2 billion in annual revenues, WuXi AppTech is putting Insilico Medicine on the Fast Track, confident in the company's growth and its prediction that data scientists in a computer lab will play a key role in finding cures for cancer, Alzheimer's and other diseases as well as extending human lives by 30 or 40 years.
“We devised a series of experiments to test the capabilities of the novel molecular generators and generate valuable data for the AI-powered drug discovery. The experimental results we saw so far look very promising and provide some confidence that artificial intelligence and deep learning can be helpful for drug discovery,” said Dr. Tao Guo, Vice President, Head of International Discovery Service Unit of WuXi AppTec.
“The compounds generated by Insilico Medicine’s innovative approaches to artificial intelligence have the potential to shorten cycle times and improve the quality of pre-clinical candidates.”
To learn more about the WuXi AppTec/Insilico Medicine story, visit www.DrugDiscovery.News.
AgeX Therapeutics, Inc., a subsidiary of BioTime, Inc. is a biotechnology company focused on the development of novel therapeutics for age-related degenerative disease. For more information, visit www.agexinc.com.
BioTime is a clinical-stage biotechnology company focused on degenerative diseases. Its clinical programs are based on two platform technologies: cell replacement and cell/drug delivery. For more information, visit www.biotime.com.