London: An artificially-intelligent "robot scientist" could make drug discovery faster and much cheaper, say researchers from University of Cambridge.
The "robot scientist" called Eve discovered that a compound shown to have anti-cancer properties might also be used in the fight against malaria.
Eve exploits its artificial intelligence to learn from early successes in her screens and select compounds that have a high probability of being active against the chosen drug target.
A smart screening system, based on genetically engineered yeast, is used.
"This allows Eve to exclude compounds that are toxic to cells and select those that block the action of the parasite protein while leaving any equivalent human protein unscathed," explained professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge systems biology ventre and the department of biochemistry.
This reduces the costs, uncertainty, and time involved in drug screening, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.
"Neglected tropical diseases are a scourge of humanity, infecting hundreds of millions of people, and killing millions of people every year," Oliver added.
Eve is designed to automate early-stage drug design. First, she systematically tests each member from a large set of compounds in the standard brute-force way of conventional mass screening.
The compounds are then screened against assays (tests) designed to be automatically engineered and can be generated much faster and more cheaply than the bespoke assays that are currently standard.
"This enables more types of assay to be applied, more efficient use of screening facilities to be made, and thereby increases the probability of a discovery within a given budget," Oliver noted.
Eve's robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds per day, concluded the paper that appeared in the journal Royal Society journal Interface.