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New innovative lab opens in Israel to focus on using AI for drug development – in partnership with Pfizer, Amazon

The opening of AION Labs, which will also encourage startups in the field, puts Israel at the top of the global bio-medical industry

Logos for Amazon Web Services and Pfizer (Photos: Shutterstock)

In an effort “to bring brilliant minds together,” four pharmaceutical companies and two web service giants will collaborate in Israel to pioneer new drugs using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

AION Labs is described as a “first-of-its-kind alliance of global pharma and technology leaders and investors that have come together with one clear mission: to create and adopt gateway AI and computational technologies that will transform the process of drug discovery and development for the betterment of human health.”

The pharmaceutical companies include Pfizer – Israel's exclusive provider of COVID injections up until now. Another company is AstraZeneca, which will begin now to provide Israel with a COVID vaccine booster for anyone who experienced significant side effects from Pfizer’s mRNA injection. Israel is the only country to make the booster mandatory after six months from the last injection or COVID recovery in order to gain access to leisure and business establishments.

Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck and Teva will team up with tech giant Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS) and Israel Biotech Fund (IBF) to spearhead “the adoption of AI technologies and computational science to solve therapeutic challenges.”

“AION Labs will include both a wet lab, where biomedical research will be performed, and a cloud-based computational lab environment, focusing on the development of new algorithms and computational methods with the aim of accelerating the discovery and development of potential new therapies,” the new consortium said in a press release.

The lab, which will be based near the Weizmann Center in Rehovot Science Park, announced the official opening of its international headquarters on Oct. 13. But the endeavor has been in the works since December 2020 when the Israel Innovation Authority awarded a tender for the lab and promised $10 million over five years.

“The rapid development of vaccines for the COVID-19 virus owes its success in part to the Artificial Intelligence (AI) capabilities of leading pharma companies such as Pfizer and Moderna,” said the Israel Innovation Authority in a Dec. 27 news release. “These areas are expected to become even more significant over the coming years.”

Another purpose of the lab is advance startups that focus on AI-based computational technologies, the statement continued.

How do pharma and high-tech go together? According to last week’s press release, the “groundbreaking AI and computational ventures… will leverage the cloud to transform how new therapies are discovered and developed.” The lab will also work with start-ups to use artificial intelligence and “the cloud” to bring treatments to market faster and avoid animal experiments.” 

“Our R&D needs-based approach, coupled with our outstanding alliance, is poised to transform the process of therapeutic discovery and development. With a strong talent pool, AI technology at our core and a significant commitment of the Israeli government, we hope to contribute to the health and well-being of humankind,” Mati Gill, CEO of AION Labs, said.

AION Labs also announced a strategic partnership with BioMed X, an independent biomedical research institute based in Heidelberg, Germany

Uwe Schoenbeck, senior vice president and chief scientific officer for Emerging Science & Innovation for Pfizer, said that this new lab has “the potential to accelerate the development of meaningful breakthroughs that could change patients’ lives.”

Jim Weatherall, vice president of Data Science and AI at AstraZeneca said that “data, analytics and AI are already starting to transform the way we discover and develop new medicines and I believe we are only at the tip of the iceberg in terms of its promise.”

This venture puts Israel at the top of the global bio-medical innovation industry.

“Fusing the world of biology with various disciplines of software in which Israel has global leadership will lead to the creation of cutting-edge companies and a globally innovative ecosystem,” said Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority.

Nicole Jansezian was the news editor and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS.

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