Some of the world’s largest technology companies — Amazon, Google, and Facebook — are ramping up efforts to use artificial intelligence to identify the structure of proteins involved in diseases, a key task in the discovery of new drugs.
Historically such work has been driven by academic labs and pharmaceutical companies — and the bulk of it still is. But biochemistry researchers say the tech giants are becoming increasingly active in the field, as artificial intelligence promises to help solve fundamental mysteries of human biology.
The most obvious example emerged from the Google subsidiary DeepMind, which bested some of the world’s foremost experts last December in a contest to predict how proteins fold, a puzzle whose solution has eluded scientists for decades. The folding process determines how proteins encoded in DNA function in the body and contribute to diseases, and knowing their structure helps with the discovery of drug candidates.