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Facebook says its AI could help find drug combinations to treat cancer

Facebook claims that its new artificial intelligence can predict the way drugs interact with each other inside cells quicker than existing methods, enabling speedier discovery of new drug combinations to treat illnesses like cancer, but some researchers say it may not translate into results that will be useful in humans.

The system, developed by Facebook AI Research and the Helmholtz Centre in Munich, Germany, is claimed to be the first easy-to-use AI model able to estimate how different drugs will work in the body. It could speed up our ability to uncover new treatments for diseases like cancer. “Drug research often takes half a decade to develop a compound,” says Fabian Theis at the Helmholtz Centre, one of the authors of the work.

The model works by measuring how individual cells change in response to treatment from a particular set of drugs and recording those responses.

Such an approach could theoretically help tackle cancer tumours, which vary from person to person and react differently to the same treatment, says Eytan Ruppin at the US National Cancer Institute.

The AI factors in variables including the type of drug, what it is used in combination with, the dosage level, the time it is taken and the type of cell it targets. It can then use that information to predict the effect of drug combinations it hasn’t yet seen.

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