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Brainstorm Health: AI and Old Drugs, Gene Editing Registry, AbbVie Cancer Drug

Happy Tuesday, readers.

We’ve written extensively about the ways that drug makers are trying to harness artificial intelligence to create new therapies. There’s a full-on feature on the matter in the latest Fortune issue.

Tiernan Ray writes on the various challenges and promises for machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the like when it comes to pharma R&D – especially when it comes to creating new uses for old drugs.

Here’s just a taste of what Ray discussed with Daniel Cohen, a genomics and Big Data pioneer who is an enthusiastic artificial intelligence evangelist (and biotech executive):

“Any protein in the body has many different functions, not only one,” says [Cohen], “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.

I encourage you to read the whole story.

And in the meantime, read on for the day’s news.

Sy Mukherjee


The WHO wants a gene editing registry. A World Health Organization (WHO) expert panel is calling for a centralized directory for gene editing research following worldwide controversy over a Chinese scientist’s alleged CRISPR experimentation on embryos. “The committee will develop essential tools and guidance for all those working on this new technology to ensure maximum benefit and minimal risk to human health,” said WHO chief scientist Soumya Swamanathan in a statement. (Reuters)


FDA hits Roche, AbbVie on cancer drug. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) delivered a blow to AbbVie, maker of the world’s best-selling drug, Humira, and partner Roche on Tuesday over ongoing studies for a cancer drug. Clinical trial recruitment for a therapy called Venclexta, for the blood cancer multiple myeloma, will be halted after reports of disproportionate patient deaths among people who took the drug (as opposed to the control arm). (Endpoints News)


San Fransisco wants to ban e-cigs. The FDA has been taking a no-holds-barred approach to fighting e-cigarette makers. And the strategy may be spurring local governments who are down with the cause. The city of San Francisco is aiming to ban sales of e-cigarettes altogether unless the FDA officially says otherwise; given the agency’s recent position on the issue, things could get interesting. (NBC News)


How Elon Musk Is Ruining His Own Reputation, by Adam Lashinsky

Electronic Voting Systems Are Buggy But Needed, by Robert Hackett

How the ‘Willy Wonka of Design’ Reimagines Corporate Leadership, by Eamon Barrett

Produced by Sy Mukherjee
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