We are reimagining the entire drug discovery process from first principles with an AI-first approach.
I believe we are on the cusp of an incredible new era of biological and medical research. Last year DeepMind’s breakthrough AI system AlphaFold2 was recognised as a solution to the 50-year-old grand challenge of protein folding, capable of predicting the 3D structure of a protein directly from its amino acid sequence to atomic-level accuracy. This has been a watershed moment for computational and AI methods for biology.
Building on this advance, today, I'm thrilled to announce the creation of a new Alphabet company – Isomorphic Labs – a commercial venture with the mission to reimagine the entire drug discovery process from first principles with an AI-first approach and, ultimately, to model and understand some of the fundamental mechanisms of life.
For over a decade DeepMind has been in the vanguard of advancing the state-of-the-art in AI, often using games as a proving ground for developing general purpose learning systems, like AlphaGo, our program that beat the world champion at the complex game of Go. We are at an exciting moment in history now where these techniques and methods are becoming powerful and sophisticated enough to be applied to real-world problems including scientific discovery itself. One of the most important applications of AI that I can think of is in the field of biological and medical research, and it is an area I have been passionate about addressing for many years. Now the time is right to push this forward at pace, and with the dedicated focus and resources that Isomorphic Labs will bring.
The pandemic has brought to the fore the vital work that brilliant scientists and clinicians do every day to understand and combat disease. We believe that the foundational use of cutting edge computational and AI methods can help scientists take their work to the next level, and massively accelerate the drug discovery process. AI methods will increasingly be used not just for analysing data, but to also build powerful predictive and generative models of complex biological phenomena. AlphaFold2 is an important first proof point of this, but there is so much more to come.
At its most fundamental level, I think biology can be thought of as an information processing system, albeit an extraordinarily complex and dynamic one. Taking this perspective implies there may be a common underlying structure between biology and information science - an isomorphic mapping between the two - hence the name of the company. Biology is likely far too complex and messy to ever be encapsulated as a simple set of neat mathematical equations. But just as mathematics turned out to be the right description language for physics, biology may turn out to be the perfect type of regime for the application of AI.
This is just the beginning of what we hope will become a radical new approach to drug discovery, and I’m incredibly excited to get this ambitious new commercial venture off the ground and to partner with pharmaceutical and biomedical companies. I will serve as CEO for Isomorphic’s initial phase, while remaining as DeepMind CEO, partially to help facilitate collaboration between the two companies where relevant, and to set out the strategy, vision and culture of the new company. This will of course include the building of a world-class multidisciplinary team, with deep expertise in areas such as AI, biology, medicinal chemistry, biophysics, and engineering, brought together in a highly collaborative and innovative environment. (We are hiring!)
As pioneers in the emerging field of ‘digital biology’, we look forward to helping usher in an amazingly productive new age of biomedical breakthroughs. Isomorphic’s mission could not be a more important one: to use AI to accelerate drug discovery, and ultimately, find cures for some of humanity’s most devastating diseases.