In many respects, Dr. Feng Ren had risen to the top of the career ladder in drug discovery. After over 11 years in drug discovery and development at GSK he became Senior Vice President of Medicilion, a multibillion dollar contract research organization providing drug development services to pharma companies that he helped to take public.
But all that time spent bringing drugs to market through traditional channels also led to frustration with the persistent roadblocks: long timeline, high cost, and low success rate.
Dr. Ren had heard about the promise of artificial intelligence (AI) to accelerate the drug discovery process and around 2019, he began seriously analyzing the market. He saw that despite traditional pharma's reservations, the AI-driven drug discovery industry had matured, with tangible results and the ability to substantially accelerate and de-risk the process. He also found that while a number of companies claimed to be developing AI capabilities, only one had an end-to-end platform leading from novel target identification to small molecule design to clinical trial prediction – Insilico Medicine, founded by Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, a pioneer in GANs and reinforcement learning for molecule design.
For six months, Dr. Ren served as an advisor to Insilico to better understand their process, during which time the company's AI-driven anti-fibrotic program progressed to a preclinical candidate (the novel small molecule has now advanced to phase 1 clinical trials
). He decided it was time to make the leap.