Improving Drug Development with AI, Not Animals

Tremendous resources are wasted on would-be treatments that never even make it to the clinical trial stage because, often, tests conducted on animals provided misleading results. Dr. Jo Varshney is out to fix that.

Jo Varshney, Founder and CEO of VeriSIM Life

The lightning development of COVID vaccines was a rare exception; most of the time, building an effective medical treatment is laborious and hugely expensive. A big source of drug-delivery delay is inefficiency in testing procedures; tremendous resources are wasted on would-be treatments that never even make it to the clinical trial stage because, often, tests conducted on animals provided misleading results. According to some estimates, fewer than 10% of all drug candidates make it to market.

Dr. Jo Varshney is out to fix that. She launched VeriSIM Life in 2017 with the goal of making drug research more efficient and effective. With a background in both oncology and veterinary science, she was intimately familiar with the flaws in animal testing. “One of the early learnings that I had was developing a drug against bone cancer, and we saw a lot of failure points because the animal model we were using was wrong,” she told Techonomy.

VeriSIM provides a computational platform that can create biosimulation models that can predict the interaction between a compound and the human body more accurately than animal testing, the company boasts. The simulations compile data across multiple species and help translate existing data into predictions that can shape research. “We are using AI to really combine that human intelligence with machine intelligence, and we found that sweet spot that will enable better predictions, but also enable research and more accurate understanding,” Varshney says.

In addition to working with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, VeriSIM is developing its own treatment for two respiratory diseases that currently have no cure.

Given that the global drug discovery market is projected to be worth $71 billion by 2025, VeriSIM’s business and social impact could be huge. Bill Gates was an early investor, as was Intel. In January the company closed a $15 million Series A round of investment.

Not surprisingly, Varshney is thinking big: “If we could reduce the failure rate from 80% to, let’s say 30%, that’s an insane market return for these drug companies and for our stakeholders. And it’s a win-win situation for the society, because you get better drugs into the market quickly.”

VeriSIM Life was selected by Techonomy last fall as one of the Techonomy10 – ten growing software companies whose business, by design, improves the world. This is one in a series of profiles of those companies. 

 

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