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    April 3, 2023

    Drug Discovery Industry Roundup with Barry Bunin — April 4, 2023

    Barry Bunin, PhD Founder & CEO Collaborative Drug Discovery
    Barry Bunin, PhD
    Founder & CEO
    Collaborative Drug Discovery

    Pausing AI Training is a "Terrible Idea." Was the title in response to the recent pause AI open letter (see below) in TechRadar with an opposing view saying "The AI genie is out of the bottle, riding on a horse that has left the barn, and I wish good luck to anyone attempting to pause AI development and training for 6 minutes, let alone six months." Providing a perhaps unintentional nod toward science fiction writers, the article includes this warning against pausing AI development: "Should we expect China or Russia to pause their own training efforts? Of course not. This is officially an arms race, and stepping out even temporarily could be disastrous for the US's (and its largely Western global partners) position in the AI race." For anyone wanting a deeper dive into the development of AI systems and large language models (LLMs), Microsoft Research recently released a 155-page paper titled "Sparks of Artificial General Intelligence: Early experiments with GPT-4." The paper concludes, in part: "We have focused on the surprising things that GPT-4 can do, but we do not address the fundamental questions of why and how it achieves such remarkable intelligence. How does it reason, plan, and create? Why does it exhibit such general and flexible intelligence when it is at its core merely the combination of simple algorithmic components-gradient descent and large-scale transformers with extremely large amounts of data? These questions are part of the mystery and fascination of LLMs, which challenge our understanding of learning and cognition, fuel our curiosity, and motivate deeper research."

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    Does AI "Pose Profound Risks to Society and Humanity"? That's the fear voiced in a recent open letter published by the Future of Life, and signed by more than 50,000 individuals, including big names such as Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, Tesla & Twitter; Apple Co-founder Steve Wozniak; and Craig Peters, CEO of Getty Images. The letter calls for a six-month pause in AI development, and quotes from the Asilomar AI Principles: "Advanced AI could represent a profound change in the history of life on Earth, and should be planned for and managed with commensurate care and resources." The authors caution: "Unfortunately, this level of planning and management is not happening, even though recent months have seen AI labs locked in an out-of-control race to develop and deploy ever more powerful digital minds that no one-not even their creators-can understand, predict, or reliably control." It may be a moot point, as it is traditionally hard to control the rate of technological progress. When I shared this article with a close relative, he quipped "Yeah, I saw - seems like it will go about as well as stopping GMOs and war and poverty." Everyone generally agrees war and poverty are bad.  AI, like GMOs, have people with strong opinions on both side of the debate. Either way, technology's progress keeps ticking.

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    "'You Forget to Eat': How Ozempic Went from Diabetes Medicine to Blockbuster Diet Drug." That's the headline from a recent National Public Radio article which notes, "Ozempic's rise to superstardom status was not something most people predicted. In fact, the drug was created by Novo Nordisk to help diabetes patients control their blood sugar. But the drug's side effect of rapid weight loss quickly stole headlines and made Ozempic a very hot commodity. So hot, it caused some problems for the people it was originally intended to help." The article quotes one user: "You are not hungry. Like, I actually have to set timers to make sure that I do eat, because otherwise you actually forget to eat." Surgeons in the UK have warned that a surge in the number of people using weight-loss drugs such as liraglutide and semaglutide could lead to "a rise in patients travelling abroad for tummy tucks or other surgery to remove excess skin," according to a recent article in The Guardian. Some are concerned that demand for the drug for weight loss is making it harder to find for those it was created for: those with Type 2 diabetes. The Wall Street Journal carries this headline: "Americans to Be Barred From Buying Ozempic in British Columbia." In addition to blocking U.S. citizens from purchasing the drug, provincial health officials are also asking doctors and pharmacists to make sure people are taking the drug for its approved use of treating diabetes, as the drug isn't approved in Canada as a weight-loss treatment.

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    "How a DNA 'Parasite' May Have Fragmented Our Genes." That's the headline in a Quanta Magazine article exploring how a novel type of "jumping gene" may explain evolutionarily how the genomes of eukaryotes came to have introns. The basic hypothesis is that there are microorganisms (especially in water) that injected introns into animals (and other eukaryotes) called introners.  Although from sequence matching, it only accounts for 5% of the cases, the authors argue that over hundreds of millions of years these "spikes" could be a major factor in catalyzing the gene splicing with the spliceosome observed more often in eukaryotes than prokaryotes. Intron splicing provides more protein variants, therefore more options for organism complexity and evolutionary optimization. The article provides a detailed look at introners, exons, and spliceosomes-and at how parasites need to keep a low profile so as not to kill their hosts and doom their evolutionary journey by injecting their own DNA as introns (which presumably in the evolutionary battle get then cut out).

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    "Are Anti-Amyloid Antibodies Going to Make Alzheimer's Patients Worse?" That question is posed by Derek Lowe in his recent blog in Science. He points to a new analysis and coverage of shrinkage in the hippocampus associated with such treatments. Lowe writes: "Trials of secretase inhibitors showed a notable shrinkage in the hippocampus, for example (the very brain structure known to be involved in many aspects of memory). But the antibody trials show unmistakable signs across the entire brain, and there seems to be a real correlation between the amount of ventricular enlargement (that is, the increase in empty space) and the amount of ARIA (amyloid-related imaging abnormalities) brought on by the antibody treatment." He suggests that more attention should be directed toward ARIA and related data when considering new Alzheimer's treatments. 

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    Barry A. Bunin, PhD, is the Founder & CEO of Collaborative Drug Discovery, which provides a modern approach to drug discovery research informatics trusted globally by thousands of leading researchers. The CDD Vault is a hosted biological and chemical database that securely manages your private and external data.

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