Enhancing our understanding of disease biology

Enhancing our understanding of disease biology

Selecting the right target is one of the most important decisions in the drug discovery process. The journey to discovering better targets starts with building a deep understanding of biology. Only by learning what causes or drives disease can we find new ways to treat, prevent or even cure them.

Science and technology advances in recent years – including genomics, multi-omics, gene editing technologies and functional genomics, underpinned by data science and artificial intelligence (AI) – are helping scientists better understand diseases such as cancer, asthma, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease.

Here are two examples of where science and technology are colliding with real impact:

Harnessing data and AI to generate insights

If you’ve ever asked Google or Alexa a question, you will have used a knowledge graph. They are incredible libraries of information which can spot the connections between thousands of different sources to help you find the answer you need.

Each year, the sheer amount of scientific information and data available to researchers grows. AstraZeneca is harnessing these vast networks of scientific data facts to give its scientists the information they need about genes, proteins, diseases and drugs, and their relationships – how they interact, work together or work against each other.

By using AI and machine learning to combine information from multiple sources, AstraZeneca hopes to draw better and faster conclusions than if the company analysed all this data by human hand. AI also has the potential to find previously unexplored patterns not immediately obvious to the human eye which will hopefully lead to new understanding of diseases and the drugs designed to treat them.

AstraZeneca recently selected the first AI-generated drug target into its portfolio, thanks to a collaboration with BenevolentAI.

Ultimately, AstraZeneca wants to develop personalised knowledge graphs that bring the right information to the right scientist at the right time, so that each one can play their part in advancing our understanding of disease.

Revealing the secrets of disease in our genes

Data science and AI can also help reveal the secrets of disease in our genes. AstraZeneca’s Centre for Genomics Research is working to analyse up to two million genomes by 2026. Alongside the gene-editing power of CRISPR to delete every gene in the genome to ask what role those genes play in biology, AstraZeneca scientists are peering inside our genetic make-up to help us better understand disease.

This and many other exciting applications for AI mean AstraZeneca is learning where it can best harness these new technologies and further automate processes, freeing up more time for its people to do what they do best – pushing the boundaries of science to deliver life-changing medicines.

This wealth of genomics data coupled with the expert application is enabling AstraZeneca to focus on analysing and interpreting the data to advance science. For example, the company is building novel machine learning and deep learning-based methods to more objectively prioritise the genes or other parts of our genome that could potentially cause disease.

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