Variational AI

Generative AI Produces COVID-19 Treatments Patented by Drug Discovery Tech Startup Variational AI

Generative AI for drug discovery startup Variational AI has filed two provisional patents for medicine to treat COVID-19. Variational AI’s Enki platform produced novel small molecules that could help limit the effect of COVID-19 on people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Generative AI Medicine

The Vancouver-based Variational AI is the developer of the Enki generative AI platform. Enki is designed to make developing new drugs more efficient and safer. The concept is largely the same as the synthetic media used by ChatGPT and other tools to generate text, images, sounds, and videos. The difference is that Variational AI applied the technology to biological linguistics, producing chemicals instead of words. The generative model framework is known as a variational autoencoder (VAE), and it has been trained on a mix of public and proprietary datasets, including COVID-19-specific information. The AI helped design of two chemicals known as protease inhibitors, which could play a key role in future COVID-19 antiviral treatments.

“The filing of these patents is a concrete milestone not just for Variational AI, but for the applicability of generative AI to the domain of drug discovery,” Variational AI CEO Handol Kim said. “Whereas adoption of AI for drug discovery is accelerating, until now it has been based on older discriminative models. Though powerful, these models are essentially just performing faster and better virtual screening of known or existing molecules. Enki™ does not screen, but rather truly creates new molecules, similar to how other generative AI models like DALL-E and ChatGPT create novel images and text based on prompts. In our case, we use the language of chemistry as prompts to describe the molecules we want.”

Because of the parameters submitted to the AI, the potential medical chemicals fit the demands of effectiveness and safety in a way that may exceed the current standard. COVID-19 isn’t the only focus for Variational AI and its Enki platform, named for the Sumerian god of knowledge, crafts, and creation, appropriately enough. The company, which has raised about $3.7 million, also wants to apply the AI to drugs for cancer treatment, expanding from its viral medicines work.

“Our team of machine learning researchers has been developing and applying generative models for years, long before the recent interest,” said Variational AI CTO Jason Rolfe said. “Drug discovery is a massively difficult undertaking, yet we continue to make rapid progress working hand-in-hand with our drug discovery team as we move to addressing unmet medical needs in oncology and beyond.”

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