Developing a new drug and bringing it to market could take decades. The entire process also requires millions, even billions, of dollars. To try to tackle this problem, InVivo AI has bet on using artificial intelligence to help revolutionize drug discovery.
Officially launched in April 2018, InVivo AI was founded through the collaboration of three PhD students who were inspired by the desire to accelerate the process of drug development so that drugs could be offered to patients faster. They combined their complementary expertise in molecular biology, computational neuroscience and machine learning to create a technology for streamlining pharmaceutical research and development, particularly in the pre-clinical phase.
At the end of 2018, the company was selected to join Espace CDPQ | Axe IA. Thanks to this beneficial collaboration, InVivo AI was able to relocate its team, currently made up of around a dozen employees, to Mila’s offices.
Fundamental research with a real impact on people’s lives
What motivates young researchers and specialists in AI and algorithms to work for a startup like InVivo AI instead of a giant like Johnson & Johnson? The company’s mission and agility, and the possibility of carrying out fundamental research applied to a technology that will have a considerable impact on the lives of millions of people.
“The current drug development process is still quite intuitive,” explains Therence Bois, one of InVivo AI’s co-founders. “For a specific therapeutic target, a researcher tests an array of molecules, often quite randomly, and repeats the experiment until the researcher finds one that’s active for the target of interest, all of which is done in a very iterative manner. InVivo AI’s technologies analyze the data generated by these researchers and create models to computationally simulate the experiments and carry out the process faster.”
Until now, the team has been working with external groups from universities and industry on projects related to oncology, pain treatment and autism. The results have been fairly conclusive. “Our work has shown that with our technology, pre-clinical phases could be substantially accelerated. We think we’ll be able to bring our first product to clinical trials in the next few years,” affirms Therence.
The international pharmaceuticals industry has already taken an interest in this technology. Buoyed by this, InVivo AI recently opened a satellite office in Boston to be closer to the industry.
Using the ecosystem’s driving forces to fine-tune its work
When asked what message he would to send to growth-seeking entrepreneurs, Therence didn’t hesitate: “You have to talk about your project since it’s the feedback from different specialists that will help you learn and ensure that it will be executed in the best way. You have to communicate, build your network very early, and take part in events bringing together key stakeholders.”
Despite its young age, InVivo AI is thinking big and taking a step-by-step approach. Its co-founders are focusing on the co-discovery of molecules in the pre-clinical phase in collaboration with sophisticated groups, which is helping them learn and perfect their technology. Accordingly, collaboration with researchers at Mila is invaluable, taking place almost on a daily basis thanks to InVivo AI’s presence at their offices. “This proximity with Mila makes it easier to collaborate and has allowed us to expand our research,” says Therence. “I’m convinced that this will have a positive impact on our technology.”
Needless to say, financing is crucial for the company’s growth. But the more it refines its technology and demonstrates its effectiveness, the more InVivo Ai will be able to get the capital it needs to reach its long-term goals for expansion. For example, it hopes to eventually carry out its own drug development projects, including clinical trials. “Currently, it often takes 10 to 15 years to bring a single drug to market in Canada, which could cost up to 2.5 billion dollars. Our goal is to significantly reduce this time and cost. Ultimately, it’s the people facing health problems who will benefit from the outcome of our research,” says Therence.
WANT TO LEARN MORE?
Visit the InVivo AI website.