Pharma startups like Pharnext are deploying machine learning to search for new therapeutic uses for “off patent” medications.
In the elegant quiet of the café at the Church of Sweden, a narrow Gothic-style building in Midtown Manhattan, Daniel Cohen is taking a break from explaining genetics. He moves toward the creaky piano positioned near the front door, sits down, and plays a flowing, flawless rendition of “Over the Rainbow.”
If human biology is the scientific equivalent of a complicated score, Cohen has learned how to navigate it like a virtuoso. Cohen was the driving force behind Généthon, the French laboratory that in December 1993 produced the first-ever “map” of the human genome. He essentially introduced Big Data and automation to the study of genomics, as he and his team demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to use super-fast computing to speed up the processing of DNA samples.
Scientists worldwide have built on Cohen’s insights, and Cohen himself, an MD with a Ph.D. in immunology, has gone on to success as a researcher and pharma executive. But a quarter-century later, genomics has yielded few of the kinds of paradigm-changing medical breakthroughs that many of its early innovators hoped for. Today, as chief executive and founder of Paris-based drug startup Pharnext, Cohen is striving to understand why that rainbow hasn’t led to a pot of gold.
“Any protein in the body has many different functions, not only one,” he says, returning from the piano to talk with me, “just as you are a person who has many functions in the population, not just one.” The phenomenon Cohen is describing is “pleiotropy,” the capacity of a single gene to have multiple, seemingly unrelated effects. It is one of the complexities of disease that has repeatedly frustrated medical researchers in their quest for therapies for the most stubborn illnesses.
Cohen not only appreciates pleiotropy’s significance: He believes that Pharnext and other drugmakers may soon exploit it—with a powerful boost from artificial intelligence. By embracing the body’s complexity, and by using A.I. to more methodically analyze and map the way the chain reactions of disease sweep through the body, he hopes to develop combinations of drugs tuned to attack a plethora of medical conditions.
Image Credit: Roberto Frankenberg
Thanks to Heinz V. Hoenen. Follow him on twitter: @HeinzVHoenen
News This Week
Researchers have used liquid metals to develop new bacteria-destroying technology that could be the answer to the deadly problem of antibiotic resistance. The technology uses nano-sized particles of magnetic liquid metal to shred bacteria [...]
Lithium ion batteries often grow needle-like structures between electrodes that can short out the batteries and sometimes cause fires. Now, an international team of researchers has found a way to grow and observe these [...]
Researchers from ETH Zurich and the National University of Singapore have developed a new kind of bandage that helps blood to clot and doesn’t stick to the wound (Nature Communications, "Superhydrophobic hemostatic nanofiber [...]
Some quantum computers and networks store their information in an electron’s spin, which can be up or down – like the zeros or ones in a conventional computer. They can also be a combination [...]
The device uses lasers to accelerate electrons along an etched channel. In a full-scale particle accelerator, electrons fly along a kilometers-long path as microwaves bombard them, boosting the particles to near light speed. Such a [...]
Researchers found a way to create lasers smaller than red blood cells. These microlasers convert infrared light into light at higher frequencies. Made from nanoparticles, these are among the smallest, continuously emitting lasers of [...]
AS artificial intelligence technology continues to develop, like any new tech, questions begin to arise on its capabilities in warfare. Technology could ultimately be catastrophic for mankind. During an interview with Express.co.uk, he argued [...]
The University of Surrey has developed a robust multi-layer nano-barrier for ultra-lightweight and stable carbon fibre reinforced polymers (CFRPs) that could be used to build high precision instrument structures for future space missions. CFRP [...]
Scientists at the University of Otago in New Zealand say they have discovered how viruses that specifically kill bacteria can outwit bacteria by hiding from their defenses. These findings are important for the development [...]
Most synthetic materials, including those in battery electrodes, polymer membranes, and catalysts, degrade over time because they don't have internal repair mechanisms. If you could distribute autonomous microrobots within these materials, then you could [...]
For the first time, researchers have been able to record, frame-by-frame, how an electron interacts with certain atomic vibrations in a solid. The technique captures a process that commonly causes electrical resistance in materials [...]
Each Cyclops had a single eye because, legend has it, the mythical giants traded the other one with the god Hades in return for the ability to see into the future. But Hades tricked [...]
Over 200 molecules have been discovered in space, some (like Buckminsterfullerene) very complex with carbon atoms. Besides being intrinsically interesting, these molecules radiate away heat, helping giant clouds of interstellar material cool and contract [...]