AI and robotics: The future of drug formulation and revolutionizing patient care

By Liza Laws

- Last updated on GMT

© Intrepid Labs AI
© Intrepid Labs AI

Related tags Robotics Automation Artificial intelligence machine learning Research Drug discovery Drug development

In the ever-evolving world of pharmaceuticals, a groundbreaking shift is underway, driven by the power of artificial intelligence and robotics.

Christine Allen, a veteran with 25 years in drug formulation, is at the forefront of this breakthrough. She says Intrepid Lab’s innovative AI-driven platform is poised to transform drug development, drastically reducing costs, and improving success rates. From rapidly optimizing formulations to extending the life of off-patent drugs, this technology, she tells OSP, promises a new era of efficiency and precision in delivering life-saving medications to patients. Join us as we delve into how AI is reshaping the future of medicine.

The company is a Johnson & Johnson Innovation - JLABS resident company and a member of the Vector Institute’s Fast-Lane Program.

OSP: Can you start by telling me about your background and how you got involved in this field?

CA: Sure. I’ve been in drug formulation for 25 years, focusing on developing new dosage forms and solving drug delivery challenges. Over the years, I’ve worked on a variety of projects that have given me deep insights into the complexities of drug formulation. My co-founder Alán Aspuru-Guzik and I started this company to harness AI and robotics to revolutionize drug formulation. We saw a huge potential to streamline the process, reduce costs, and improve the success rate of getting new drugs to market.

OSP: That's impressive. So, how does your AI-driven platform work in drug formulation?

CA:​ Our platform uses AI to predict the best formulation for a given drug, significantly speeding up the process. Traditional methods are often trial and error, involving numerous iterations to get the formulation right. This can be time-consuming and expensive. Our technology uses machine learning algorithms to analyze data and identify optimal formulations much more quickly. This reduces the time and cost involved in getting a drug ready for clinical trials. Essentially, we can rapidly iterate and optimize formulations, which is a game-changer in the industry.

OSP: Drug trials are notoriously expensive. Are you targeting companies that are stuck in their development process?

CA:​ Absolutely. Our business model has two sides. On one hand, we partner with companies that have a drug in the clinic that’s not performing well, or they have a new drug molecule that hasn’t been formulated yet, or they have a drug coming off patent and need a new formulation to extend its life. These companies come to us because they need innovative solutions to move forward. On the other side, we identify molecules coming off patent, reformulate them, and license those assets out. This strategy allows us to create new opportunities for drugs that might otherwise become obsolete. We're particularly focused on converting chronically taken drugs into long-acting injectables, making it easier for patients who might currently have to take multiple doses daily.

OSP: Have there been any major challenges you’ve faced?

CA:​ So far, things have been relatively smooth. We secured wet lab space in Toronto quickly, which isn’t easy. The lab was fully set up by the end of December. We’ve signed one partnership recently and are negotiating with a couple more. Securing talent can be tough, but in AI and life sciences, Toronto is a great place to be. Challenges are expected, but we’ve been lucky so far. I’m sure we’ll face hurdles as we grow, but we’re prepared to tackle them. For now, the biggest challenge is probably educating the market about the potential of our technology and getting them comfortable with using AI in their development processes.

OSP: What future advancements do you see for your platform?

LL:​ There’s huge potential in AI, robotics, and formulation development, not just for our company but broadly. I envision precision medicine where a patient’s needs are quickly met with reformulated drugs. Imagine a patient who can’t swallow a pill getting a suitable formulation within days. This could revolutionize clinical trials by quickly reformulating failing drugs and keeping trials going, reducing costs and improving success rates. It’s also crucial to educate people about AI’s benefits. We give lab tours and explain our technology through case studies to demystify it. Long-term, I see a future where formulation development is more automated and integrated into everyday clinical and pharmaceutical practices, perhaps even in pharmacies or hospitals where custom formulations can be prepared on-demand for individual patients.

OSP: The pharma industry has been slow to adopt new technologies. How do you reassure someone who’s skeptical about AI?

CA:​ I’d tell them about my 25 years in drug formulation and my excitement for this approach. We invite them to our lab, walk them through case studies, and show them the results. It’s about guiding them through the journey and building their confidence. For example, a mentor of mine who was initially skeptical became very excited after seeing our case studies. It’s about showing, not just telling. We need to hold their hand through the process, demonstrating how our AI system selects formulations and iterates towards the best solution. It’s important to make them see the technology is reliable and effective, dispelling the notion that it’s a ‘black box.’

OSP: Have people been visiting your lab from all over the world?

CA: Mostly from the US, but we’re in touch with companies in Europe too. Many connections come through scientific societies I’m involved in. The US has been a primary focus because of the density of biotech firms and the openness to innovative technologies. We’re starting to see more interest from European companies as well, which is encouraging. The goal is to broaden our reach and showcase our capabilities to a global audience.

OSP: Will you be attending conferences to showcase your platform?

CA:​ Yes, I’m presenting at BIO next week in San Diego and several other conferences over the next six months. It’s a great way to share our excitement and results. We believe that every meeting and conference is an opportunity to learn, gain feedback, and improve our approach. Engaging with industry stakeholders at these events helps us understand their needs and how we can better serve them. It’s also a platform to build our credibility and establish ourselves as leaders in AI-driven drug formulation.

OSP: Have you received feedback from industry stakeholders​?

CA:​ Yes, we’ve signed a partnership and generated data quickly for them. This partnership validates our technology and helps us gather feedback to improve. Building our company’s credibility is crucial, and working with pharmaceutical companies and showing them results is the best way to do that. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far, which is encouraging. We aim to continue this trajectory by demonstrating our platform’s effectiveness through real-world applications and results.

OSP: Any final thoughts on the potential of your platform?

CA:​ I’m excited about the potential of AI and robotics in drug formulation. We could significantly reduce the high failure rates in drug development, making the process more efficient and less costly. It’s about leveraging technology to make real advancements and improvements in how we develop and deliver drugs to patients. Ultimately, our goal is to transform the industry and improve patient outcomes by ensuring that more effective drugs reach the market faster. It’s a challenging journey, but one that holds immense promise.

Related topics Clinical Development

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