Researchers have revealed the first vaccine purely designed by artificial intelligence (AI). This has the potential to revolutionise the drug discovery process by making it quicker, cheaper and producing more effective drugs.

From target discovery to market, the drug discovery process takes on average nine years and millions of dollars. The majority of this time is taken up by trialling thousands of potential drug molecules for their target molecule affinity. Sophisticated AI algorithms have already become integrated into the drug discovery process in order to suggest suitable targets based on huge amounts of previous data. Advanced in AI have considerably sped up the time to get drugs to market. However, this is the first time that AI has been used to completely design a new vaccine.

Researchers at Flinders University developed the AI system, known as Smart Algorithms for Medical Discovery (SAM). The researchers first taught the AI about molecules that could activate the immune systems and those which had no effect, with the hope that this would teach the AI about the qualities of an effective drug.

Next the team developed another AI programme called the “synthetic chemist”. The programme generates trillions of potential drug molecules. All potential molecules were then fed into the SAM programme which evaluated each potential molecule for the qualities which ensured a molecule was an effective immune drug in previous studies.

The SAM selected drugs were synthesised and tested on human red blood cells and in mice. The AI-selected drugs considerably outperformed the current flu drugs. Flu is still a serious problem around the world, and those with the vaccine are still sometimes susceptible to the disease. The SAM drugs will now enter clinical trials, to see if they have the potential to be the next widely administered flu vaccine.

SAM has the potential to considerably shorten the drug discovery process, which will save millions of dollars. AI may create more effective drugs than human-designed ones. It is clear that AI will be integral to the future of the drug discovery process.