Artificial Intelligence, BioPharma

GSK Digital & Tech Executive Takes Drug-Hunting Inspiration from Outer Space

GSK is making greater use of artificial intelligence and computational techniques as part of its drug discovery efforts. Speaking during the HLTH conference in Las Vegas, executive Mike Montello likened his company’s techniques to the efforts to study and analyze images from outer space.

Mike Montello recalls being fascinated with space exploration as a child. But rather than pursuing work with NASA, his career path took him into drug research and he is now GSK’s senior vice president, R&D digital and tech. Still, he sees connections between his work and the endeavors producing new celestial discoveries.

New images from the James Webb Space Telescope are like windows that enable us to see what the universe looked like in the past, Montello said. In drug discovery, scientists are using computational techniques to get ahead of disease in the future.

“We’re able to use advanced technology to understand in our bodies, our inner space,” Montello said, speaking Monday during a talk at the HLTH conference in Las Vegas.

Just as NASA scientists are studying Webb telescope images to better understand the development of the universe, drug researchers are taking images and linking them to other data to better understand cells, Montello said. Such analysis can determine what turns certain functions on or off. It can also be used to predict disease and disease risk.

The growth of data is exponential. In the last year alone, GSK’s labs generated more than 21 billion scientific data points, Montello said. Machine-learning techniques enable GSK to interrogate the data, finding patterns and connections—starting points for developing new medicines.

Montello said a significant amount of data comes from GSK’s own laboratories. Additional data come from clinical trials as well as real world evidence. Yet even more data come from partnerships with academic institutions. Nearly a year ago, GSK and the University of Oxford unveiled a five-year partnership focused on researching potential new medicines for neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. GSK put £30 million into the effort, establishing the Oxford-GSK Institute of Molecular and Computational Medicine, which is based at the university.

GSK has also established alliances with the technology sector. Montello said his team has partnerships with Microsoft, Google, and Nvidia. Montello said these alliances “supercharge the AI team” by generating data in new formats.

Photo: Ricky Vigil, Getty Images