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Irish startup expects to discover five new healthcare products using AI by 2021

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
The startups drug discovery process uses machine learning, resulting in a 60% success rate. Photo: Getty

An Irish startup that made the first discovery of a healthcare ingredient using artificial intelligence (AI) says that it could discover a further four within the next 18 months.

Nuritas, which has raised $65m (£51m) from a series of high-profile investors like Salesforce founder Marc Benioff and U2’s Bono and the Edge, said that its machine learning drug discovery process now had a 60% success rate — far higher than the rest of the pharmaceutical industry.

The first ingredient it discovered, which helps treat inflammation, is expected to hit the market in a variety of sports nutrition products by the end of 2019, CEO Emmet Browne told Yahoo Finance UK.

“We believe not only that we have launched the only healthcare ingredient found through AI, but we will in fact launch the second, third, fourth, and fifth within a 12–18 month period as well,” Browne said in an interview.

The first ingredient was discovered in collaboration with German chemical giant BASF (BAS.DE) in the space of two years.

Nuritas noted that, for BASF, the discovery of such an ingredient usually takes between five and seven years, and typically costs around $35m.

“To have something in market that quickly is just exceedingly disruptive by comparison to what's normally the case with that particular arena,” Browne said.

Nuritas uses a three-stage process to discover new healthcare ingredients. It first identifies a range of possibilities before using machine learning to narrow them down.

Around 60% of those identified will show the necessary bioactive activity, Browne said.

“In effect, what we do is use artificial intelligence to unlock nature's secrets. That’s the depth of it.”

“Nature carries an exhaustible reserve of bioactive opportunities,” Browne said, noting that the “vastness has until now made it relatively impenetrable to the 20th century process of discovery.”

Founded in 2014 by Dr Nora Khaldi, an Irish-Algerian scientist, Nuritas has also raised money from serial entrepreneur Ali Partovi, who was an early advisor to Dropbox, and the European Investment Bank.

The company is also a founding member of the Alliance for Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare, a coalition of tech experts, pharmaceutical companies, and research organisations that advocates the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve the quality of care provided to patients.