AI and self-learning machines rewriting the pharmaceutical map

2023-05-22

“The new technology offers fantastic opportunities for pharmaceutical research. Thus, slowing down the ongoing progress might relegate Sweden to an international backwater,” says Per Larsson, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy who in 2022 led a project at Uppsala University's interdisciplinary initiative AI4Research.

Per Larsson, the Faculty of Pharmacy
Per Larsson, the Faculty of Pharmacy

Artificial Intelligence and self-learning machines have in a short time reached the position among the indispensable parts of our everyday life. Moreover, beyond Siri's weather forecasts and self-propelled vacuum cleaners, the new technology brings the scientific world to ever more spectacular levels. Among those who have already entered the field is Per Larsson, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Pharmacy, who in 2022 led one of nine projects at AI4Research, an interdisciplinary effort to establish Uppsala University along the front line of our digital future.

“I joined AI4Research with an aim to apply machine learning to calculate the solubility and permeability of orally administered peptide drugs into the blood. With hindsight, it was a very valuable experience where the interaction with other disciplines helped me look beyond my own frames of reference and, above all, made it obvious how useful AI actually is,” says Per Larsson.

The rapid development is not only embraced with optimism. Entrepreneur Elon Musk recently warned that artificial intelligence could lead to the downfall of civilization. Before that and under the headline “Swedish working group against killer robots”, a newspaper reported that two Swedish cabinet ministers want to review the development of artificially intelligent machines that can make their own decisions to kill people in conflicts. Among the considerably less worried, we find Thomas Schön, Professor of Artificial Intelligence, who in an interview concludes that respect for the new technology is self-evident, but that he above all expects the research to remain free of mental limitations.

Per Larsson, Senior Lecturer
Per Larsson, Senior Lecturer

“I work far from the most advanced development of new algorithms and perhaps I am naive, but I rather perceive risks in slowing down the current progress, which could result in Sweden quickly being relegated to an international backwater. Certainly there are challenges, not least on the education side where we quickly need methods to identify plagiarism and AI-generated texts. But more than anything, I see a technology that can safely and time-efficiently pave the way for progress that was previously scientific utopias,” states Per Larsson.

Within Per's own field, drug delivery, previously available methods for assembling and analysing data have also set the framework for scientific understanding of variations in bioavailability of peptide drugs. By combining machine learning with the virtual intestine developed at the Faculty of Pharmacy, the research group can now both implement additional variables and get AI support in determining which of these that are of highest relevance. In the foreseeable future, the goal is to contribute to individually designed peptide drugs, and this autumn the team expects to publish their first articles based on the project.

“We also advance the subject in our educations. This semester we introduced a lecture with focus on AI and machine learning in the course Computational Pharmaceutics. Before the autumn, we will prepare hands-on exercises within Large language models, and are currently reviewing several other openings. It is obvious that this new technology offers fantastic opportunities for pharmaceutical research, and regardless of what monitoring proves to be necessary, we should take advantage of and continue to develop these tools that are now available in our efforts to contribute to a healthier world.”

FACTS

  • AI4Research is a five-year project tasked with strengthening, renewing and developing research in Artificial Intelligence and machine learning.
  • AI4Research is a resource for the entire University, and researchers in all disciplinary research domains at Uppsala University will be included throughout the project period.
  • The project offers researchers funding for a sabbatical period of at least half time for a maximum of one year.

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CONTACT

Per Larsson, UniversitetslektorPer Larsson, Universitetslektor
Senior Lecturer
per.r.larsson@uu.se

text: Magnus Alsne, photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

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Last modified: 2024-04-04