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Artificial intelligence makes a splash in small-molecule drug discovery

Credit: Yuichiro Chino

In the past five years, interest in applying artificial intelligence (AI) approaches in drug research and development (R&D) has surged. Driven by the expectation of accelerated timelines, reduced costs and the potential to reveal hidden insights from vast datasets, more than 150 companies with a focus on AI have raised funding in this period, based on an analysis of the field by Back Bay Life Science Advisors (Fig. 1a). And the number of financings and average amount raised soared in 2021.

At the forefront of this field are companies harnessing AI approaches such as machine learning (ML) in small-molecule drug discovery, which account for the majority of financings backed by venture capital (VC) in recent years (Fig. 1b), as well as some initial public offerings (IPOs) for pioneers in the area (Table 1). Such companies have also attracted large pharma companies to establish multiple high-value partnerships (Table 2), and the first AI-based small-molecule drug candidates are now in clinical trials (Nat. Rev. Drug Discov. 21, 175–176; 20221). These pioneering AI-focused companies are the focus of this article, which highlights some of the trends in the field based on recent major company financings and deals.


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