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Global Health

Lilly partners with OpenAI to develop novel antibiotics

The partnership is the latest example of recruiting artificial intelligence in the fight against antimicrobial resistance

by Aayushi Pratap
June 27, 2024 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 102, Issue 20


A glitching green bacterium floats above a microchip.
Credit: Will Ludwig/C&EN/CDC/Shutterstock

Eli Lilly and Company has partnered with OpenAI, maker of the generative AI platform ChatGPT, to invent new antibiotics.

Lilly says antimicrobial resistance (AMR) affects countries in all regions and at all income levels. But it is exacerbated by poverty and inequality, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

The Indiana-based drug company says the collaboration supports its earlier commitment, through its Social Impact Venture Capital Portfolio, of $100 million to the industry-backed AMR Action Fund. Lilly says the action fund aims to provide patients with two to four new antibiotics by 2030.

According to the World Health Organization, 4.95 million deaths yearly are associated with AMR.

This year, OpenAI also partnered with Sanofi and Formation Bio to build AI-powered software for drug development.

James Zou, associate professor of biomedical data science at Stanford University, calls the Lilly-OpenAI partnership an exciting development for drug discovery. “OpenAI is increasingly interested in biotech, specifically new drug discovery,” Zou says. “I believe that generative AI will play a very important role in discovering new molecules.”

Academic research groups such as Zou’s use generative AI more and more to synthesize new antibiotics. This year, Zou’s team and McMaster University researchers reported a new model called SyntheMol, which can spell out chemical recipes for antibiotic molecules (Nature, DOI: 10.1038/s42256-024-00809-7). Using the platform, the authors shortlisted six novel antibiotics capable of killing drug-resistant strains of Acinetobacter baumannii.

Another study, published in Nature last December by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, highlighted AI’s power in drug discovery (DOI: 10.1038/s41586-023-06887-8). The team used deep learning to identify antibiotic compounds that kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

Felix Wong, the Nature study’s lead author and cofounder of the AI-based drug discovery start-up Integrated Biosciences, is bullish on the role AI can play in synthesizing novel molecules and identifying new antibiotic drug targets. “AI is a crucial tool in navigating the vast landscape of potential drug compounds,” Wong says.



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