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B.C. artificial intelligence venture Variational AI partners with Merck

Variational's AI platform helps drug developers create recipes for specific molecules
Variational AI CEO Handol Kim's company has a platform that uses the language of chemistry to create drug recipes

Multinational drug developer Merck is partnering with a Vancouver-based artificial intelligence (AI) company that has a platform that enables drug makers to quickly create recipes for specific molecules. 

Variational AI this morning announced the partnership, which was facilitated by the not-for-profit biopharmaceutical research consortium CQDM Quantum Leap.

While some AI platforms create pictures, and others generate answers to questions or spit out long essays in seconds, Variational AI's Enki generative-AI platform uses the language of chemistry, its CEO Handol Kim explained to BIV last year

“Merck will evaluate Enki’s ability to generate novel small molecules on targets of their choosing," he said this morning. "We built and trained Enki as a foundation model that generates novel, selective, and synthesizable lead-like structures. It designs novel molecules how other generative AI foundation models like DALL-E and Midjourney create novel images based on text prompts."

Kim explained that scientists who use Variational AI's platform provide what he called target product profiles (TPPs) to describe desired molecules. Enki then generates structures that meet the TPP.  

“Adoption of AI for drug discovery is accelerating, but it is being led by companies using their proprietary AI to discover and develop their own assets.” Kim said. “With the Enki platform, chemists do not need to develop their own generative AI models, but can now submit their TPPs and get novel, diverse, selective, and synthesizable lead-like structures in days to move quickly into lead optimization.”

Scientists who use Enki to create recipes for molecules are then able to contract workers to make the molecules by using those recipes.

Any potential drugs created by using the AI-devised molecule recipes would still need to go through a regulatory and clinical-trial process. The difference in using Variational AI's technology is that the process of drug discovery is speeded up, thereby making potential scientific breakthroughs faster.

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