AI will revolutionize biopharma, but can’t be an inventor, says Indian American scientist Anjali Pandey

Ritu Jha–

Indian American Anjali Pandey, head of medicinal chemistry at Sudo Biosciences, and an accomplished biopharmaceutical R&D leader, scientist, and inventor, says artificial intelligence (AI) will not only change the time course taken by biotech or pharma industries to drug discovery, but will also bring the cost down.

“However, AI can never be an inventor,” she told indica in an exclusive interview.

“Every drug takes 10 to 15 years and pharma or biotech industries have to put in billions of dollars to bring one drug to the market, making the drugs expensive. But now with AI if we can decrease the timeline it takes to deliver the drug, and deliver in three years instead of 10-12 years. The cost of the company will go down and that will decrease the cost of the product for the end consumers,” Pandey said. She has more than 25 years of experience in all stages of drug discovery and development, and holds 70 patents.

Pandey is on the board of directors of EPPIC Global, an SVP in Sudo Biosciences, and a consultant for Frazier Life Sciences. She has developed a drug for people who undergo angioplasty. The drug ensures that their arteries don’t clog after surgery. She also developed blood thinner to be administered after hip surgery, knee surgery, or when patients are bedridden for a long time and tend to get blood clots.

AI, Dr Pandey said, will enable the biopharmaceutical sector to decipher the massive amount of data generated by clinical trials. “The market is about collecting data from patients, going to the right patients, and bringing in AI tools to discover drugs faster. This is not a silver bullet, it’s not going to happen today, or tomorrow, it’ll take another five to 10 years.”

Covid-19, she said, played a catalyst in integrating data analysts with scientists. “During Covid, people saw how we can develop a drug if everybody unites to solve one problem. I have used AI in drug design over the last 10 years. But people have been questioning why we fail in clinical trials. It is because of patient selection and administering the drugs to the right patients. So now we are using a lot of AI technology in doing the patient stratification, and to know the demography of the patient.”

Pandey was the founder of Sudo Biosciences and Lengo Therapeutics. Lengo Therapeutics was acquired in 2021 by Blueprint Medicines Corporation because of a drug developed by Pandey that could get into the brain. “When cancer metastasizes into the brain, then drugs prove ineffective as they can’t go into the brain because it is protected by a blood-brain barrier. The drug we developed at Lengo Therapeutics had a property that enabled it to get into the brain. It can take care of the tissue, the brain tumors,” she recounted.

The many achievements that she has now got under her belt did not come easy. Entering a male-dominated industry was never going to be a cakewalk. “Medicinal chemistry was dominated by males when I joined. While staying in the US I realized that they recognize talent and if you can show that you are driven and you have the right knowledge and perspective, you will be recognized. I was very lucky to get a mentor who always wanted women in his management team because he felt they bring a very different perspective than men. But, still, as a woman, it does take extra hard work.”

She was born in India and came to the US for her PhD after completing her Master’s from IIT Kanpur. Lack of opportunities back home was one of the factors that brought her to the US. “There were not that many opportunities when I left India in 1984. The research environment was very poor in India at that time. And, the style of training was less analytical and more theoretical. Now things are changing but I have never worked there.”

Pandey feels that the Indian government is not putting enough money into R&D. “The biopharmaceutical industry requires a lot of money for R&D. The Indian government is not doing enough. The Chinese government puts in a lot of money for the companies that work in this sector. India does not do that. And without funding a company cannot do that kind of work.”

Pandey is a strong advocate of AI in the pharmaceutical industry and she also does not shy away from allaying fears that the technology may one day replace humans. “You need the wisdom of the people with experience and guardrails for AI to function optimally. Because in the end, the machine is a machine, we need a human inside looking at the data that comes out.”

She added, “AI is far from the invention of a new drug. It will reduce the time frame, and cost. Failure of the clinical trials will also reduce, which is very important. Today, 90% of drugs fail in clinical trials because the molecule is not right or the biology that we went after was not correct. Mostly they fail because of not having good efficacy. AI technology will help reduce these factors and optimize the process to achieve better efficacy.”

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