Health in an ageing population: The future of medicines discovery is an intelligent one

Posted On: 
31st October 2018

The UK has been effective in translating AI research into new start-ups attracting both major investment and skilled workers from across the world. Combining this growth with a long-established expertise in drug discovery will maintain the UK’s position as leaders in these new and historical sectors, writes Medical Discovery Catapult. 

Medical advances, better drugs, healthier lifestyles and safer workplaces have resulted in us living longer lives. A third of children born today are expected to live to see their 100th birthday and the number of people over age 75 will increase from one in 12 today, to one in 7 by 2040. But longer lives and larger elderly populations are inevitably associated with complex and chronic health conditions, a major challenge for health services and countries across the developed world.

The treatment of chronic health conditions in our ageing population accounts for 70% of total health and social care spending in England, with a similar pattern expressed nationally. The treatment of dementia alone costs the UK economy £26 billion per annum, with £9 billion coming directly from Government.

It is therefore vital that our ageing population lead healthy, independent and productive lives.

Recognising the need for cooperation between public and private sectors, and a unique opportunity to foster high value industry, the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund issued the Healthy Ageing challenge.

Mission: Ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest

The UK’s position as a major global hub for artificial intelligence research and data science, together with our world-class drug discovery industry, academic sector, and integrated healthcare system puts the UK in a strong position to approach this challenge using artificial intelligence (AI).

John Overington, Chief Informatics Officer, of Medicines Discovery Catapult says:

“AI in drug discovery is an area where the UK can genuinely compete globally and the large investments underway in the USA and China, underline the importance of coordinated national action.”

Medicines Discovery Catapult has contributed by participating in a number of responses to this call, collaborating with partners from across academic, pharmaceutical, and digital technologies industries, and the public sector to detail how AI could be applied to develop new therapies and medicines helping to form part of the solution.

The underlying complexity of diseases of the elderly, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancers, and frailty, represents a major opportunity for AI to impact at multiple points in the development of new medicines. For example, keeping on top of the scientific literature is now beyond the ability of any individual researcher, so the proven ability of AI to automatically extract key information and help identify the network of processes which cause the disease is now vital. In addition, there are numerous opportunities to apply AI and automation in the early stages of the discovery and development of new medicines. For example, the trial and error process of identifying and optimising a potential drug is extremely expensive and unpredictable. AI can be applied to reduce the number of “blind alleys” explored by researchers and increase efficiencies.

The combination of AI and healthcare also represents a valuable economic opportunity.

The UK has been effective in translating AI research into new start-ups attracting both major investment and skilled workers from across the world. Combining this growth with a long-established expertise in drug discovery will maintain the UK’s position as leaders in these new and historical sectors. The Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, Margot James, recently pinpointed how the unique data resource held within the NHS provides a significant advantage for UK-based healthcare innovation with the potential to make a major contribution to the UK’s prosperity.

It is vital that we harness and continue to fund AI to make healthy ageing a reality for all. The future of medicines discovery is an intelligent one.

AI requires the combination of algorithms, computer and data. Here at the Medicines Discovery Catapult we are committed to making connected data available and providing support to SMEs in its application. Using our deep expertise in scientific data analysis, natural language processing and machine learning, we will create actionable insights which support SMEs to make informed decisions and make the process of drug discovery quicker, cheaper and more predictable.