AI "will lead to faster R&D, but held back by bias"

By Leila Hawkins
New research finds that while AI and blockchain will lead to faster drug research and development, skills gaps and data bias are preventing wider adopti...

A new report by the Pistoia Alliance has found that while interest in artificial intelligence and blockchain has increased, there are still barriers to adoption such as skills gaps and data bias. 

The Pistoia Alliance is a global, not-for-profit alliance that works to lower barriers to innovation in life science and healthcare R&D. Its members include pharmaceutical giants such as Pfizer, AstraXeneca and Bayer, as well as startups, academics and other non-profits in the life sciences sector. 

Their latest research shows a high level of interest in AI and blockchain among respondents, with 57 per cent already engaging in computational drug repurposing and 89 per cent aware of blockchain technology. However 30 per cent say a lack of access to people with relevant blockchain skills is the main barrier to wider adoption. 

The survey's key takeaways are:

  • 70 per cent of respondents think blockchain has the potential to make a real difference in patient data management and sharing
  • 62 per cent say AI will lead to faster R&D
  • 30 per cent identified a lack of access to people with relevant blockchain skills as the biggest barrier to widespread adoption
  • 19 per cent said a lack of standards, and 17 per cent said interoperability issues were barriers to adoption
  • 38 per cent believe algorithmic bias poses a barrier to AI for drug repurposing

Commenting on the survey Dr Steve Arlington, President of the Pistoia Alliance, said: “The industry clearly has a willingness to engage with blockchain and AI technologies, but historical barriers are hampering progress. Cross-industry collaboration will be essential to overcoming issues around access to data and skills, so that more companies and thus, patients, can benefit from these technologies.” 

“70 per cent of our survey participants think blockchain has the potential to make a real difference in patient data management and sharing. Blockchain’s ability to instantly create tamper-proof records will become a key part of increasing patient participation as more clinical trials are conducted remotely because of the pandemic. We hope the security advantages can both improve patient trust and facilitate further knowledge sharing across the life science community.”

Pistoia Alliance consultant Becky Upton said the quality of data must improve to eliminate bias. "Technologies including AI and blockchain have the potential to transform drug development. Yet no matter how powerful these technologies become, challenges and bias will exist until we improve the quality of data feeding algorithms" she said. 

“To eliminate bias, data sets must be varied and drawn from accurate, diverse sources. Standards for data storing and sharing must also be improved. The Pistoia Alliance has created a Center of Excellence in AI and a project dedicated to Informed Consent using blockchain – to provide a space for the industry to share best practices and discuss common challenges. We urge any interested parties to get involved with our work and help inform our outputs, so that we can collectively continue to accelerate R&D.”

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