Meet Eve the artificially intelligent robot scientist working on finding new drugs

The robot scientist Eve. Image: University of Manchester

Eve is an artificially-intelligent robot scientist who could make life-saving drug discovery faster and much cheaper.

Researchers, writing in the Royal Society journal Interface, say Eve has already uncovered a compound with anti-cancer properties which might also be used against malaria.

Robot scientists can automatically develop and test hypotheses to explain observations, run experiments using laboratory robotics, interpret the results to amend their hypotheses and then repeat the cycle, automating hypothesis-led research.

In 2009, Adam, a robot scientist developed by researchers at the Universities of Aberystwyth and Cambridge, became the first machine to independently discover new scientific knowledge.

The same team has now developed Eve to speed the drug discovery process and make it more economical.

“Neglected tropical diseases are a scourge of humanity, infecting hundreds of millions of people, and killing millions of people every year,” says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre and the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge.

“We know what causes these diseases and that we can, in theory, attack the parasites that cause them using small molecule drugs. But the cost and speed of drug discovery and the economic return make them unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry.

“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. This reduces the costs, uncertainty, and time involved in drug screening, and has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people worldwide.”

Eve’s robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds a day.

Professor Ross King, from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology at the University of Manchester, says every industry now benefits from automation and science is no exception.

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