The rise of subscription-based AI platforms for drug discovery

  • 2 min read
  • 10th April, 2024
  • News Mentions
  • External Writer

As soon as pharmaceutical companies recognized the potential of artificial intelligence tools for drug discovery, they rushed in with big money. After all, traditional drug discovery methods are painstakingly time-consuming, and the promise of AI platforms to trim timelines holds much appeal. Nearly all pharma giants have partnered with start-ups or well-established companies at the forefront of drug discovery AI.

The catch is that these platforms are often out of the financial reach of smaller biotech companies and research groups. But this is changing, thanks to software as a service (SaaS).

SaaS allows users to access cloud-based services over the internet by paying a monthly subscription fee. For a modest sum, drug hunters get access to AI methods of discovering new molecules, though without the personalized service that comes with a full-fledged partnership.

Many AI companies in the drug discovery space have begun to market their services through a suite of business models, including SaaS, that complement their more expensive partnership offerings.

A new player in SaaS for drug discovery AI is the big chipmaker Nvidia, which is best known for producing graphics processing units (GPUs) that enable AI platforms like ChatGPT. Nvidia announced on March 18 that Nvidia Inference Microservices (NIM), a collection of microservices that include models for generative AI for drug discovery processes, will be available as a part of its AI suite.

The company’s AI enterprise is priced at $4,500 per GPU per year or $1.00 per GPU per hour.

“If you are a researcher with access to a supercomputer, you can take NIM and deploy it on your supercomputer. To me, this democratizes access to these platforms,” Kimberly Powell, vice president of health care at Nvidia, said at a press briefing.

Some smaller players have also decided to offer services through SaaS. One of them is Boston-based 1910 Genetics, which uses its AI platform to develop its own drugs for neurological and autoimmune diseases and cancer. It recently enhanced its computing abilities by forming a partnership that gives it access to Microsoft’s high-performance Azure Quantum Elements platform.

In tandem with the partnership, 1910 Genetics has expanded how it offers its drug discovery services. While it will continue collaborating with bigger drug companies to codiscover and engineer drugs, its AI platform will also be available via SaaS. Researchers or small biotech ventures can now try to discover small- and large-molecule medicines directly on the 1910 Genetics platform.

“The aim is to democratize access to core modules within our platform,” says Jen Nwankwo, founder and CEO of 1910 Genetics.

The company also offers an Amazon Prime–like option: researchers working on specific drug targets can inform Nwankwo’s team about the nature of the drug they wish to test, and 1910 Genetics will design a molecule and ship it back.

By Aayushi Pratap

Read the full feature here.