Even though it can’t yet pass the Turing Test, does Berg Health’s artificial intelligence computer programs represent a new paradigm in cancer treatment research and development?
By: Ringo Bones
Even though the working principles of such computer programs were first mentioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation and other science fiction programs back in the late 1980s, it is only relatively recently that an artificial intelligent computer program had actually reduced the time and costs in the research and development of new anti-cancer drugs - which is of upmost importance if the new anti-cancer drug proves to be safer than current chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment schemes. Even though it can’t yet pass the Turing Test, it does show promise of reducing the excessive costs and lengthy development times in introducing new and more effective anti-cancer treatment drugs to the market.
Berg Health – a pharmaceutical start up founded in back in 2008 with Silicon Valley venture capital backing, said that its proprietary artificial intelligent computer program has managed to slash both time and development costs of putting a new more effective anti-cancer drug into the market. It has already managed to develop a new anti-cancer drug that’s expected to go on sale within three years – marking seven years in development compared to the general 14 years using previous methods.
Recent cancer research shows that healthy cells feed on glucose in the body and then die off in a process known as cell death when their usefulness draws to a close. But in some circumstances the mitochondria – the part of the cell that provides its energy – malfunctions and metabolizes lactic acid instead of glucose, turning off the built in cell death function at the same time. The cell can then become cancerous and a tumor grows. Berg Health’s new drug – BPM31510 – will reactivate the mitochondria, restarting the metabolizing of glucose as normal and reinstituting call death so the body can harmlessly pass the problem cell out of the body.
Berg Health’s research and development team used a specialized form of artificial intelligence computer program to compare samples taken from patients with the most aggressive strains of cancer, including pancreatic, bladder and brain, with those from non-cancerous individuals. The technology highlighted disparities between the corresponding biological profiles, selecting those it predicted would respond best to the drug being tested.
“We’re looking at 14-trillion data points in a single tissue sample. We can’t humanly process that”, says Niven Narain, a clinical oncologist and Berg Health co founder. “Because we’re tackling this data-driven approach, we need a supercomputer capability. We use them for mathematics in a big data analytic platform, so it can collate that data into various categories: healthy population for women, for men, disease candidates, etc, and it’s able to take these slices in time and integrate them so that we’re able to see where it’s gone wrong and develop drugs based on that information,” Mr. Narain said.
Berg Health expects to begin phase two trials of the drug in January 2016, meaning it has already been proven to be effective on animal or cell culture tests and is safe to continue testing in humans. Mr. Narain said it usually takes 2.6-billion US dollars and 12 to 14 years to get a new drug to the market, and that the trial metric within four and a half years worth of development indicated the time it takes to create a new drug can be cut by at least 50-percent. This will also translate into less expenditure, he claimed. “I don’t believe we’re going to spend 1.3-billion US dollars to produce our first drug, so the cost is cut by at least 50-percent too” he added. “There’s a bit of trial and error in the old model so a lot of these costs are due to the failure of really expensive clinical trials. We’re able to be more predictive and effective…and that’s going to cut hundreds of millions of dollars off the cost.”