Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery and Development: Improve Your “Hit Rate” for Successful Projects


Life Science companies have demonstrated a strong appetite for artificial intelligence solutions to support both the drug discovery and drug development processes. The percentage of those using AI soared from 44 percent in 2017 to 70 percent in 2019. Overall biopharma R&D budgets have remained strong in that time, which has funded increased investment in AI. Biopharma companies are feeding their growing demand for AI by hiring specialists and by contracting with outside firms to gain the skills and solutions they need. Both approaches present challenges. Hiring requires competing for candidates during an acute global talent shortage. Contracting requires shopping in a market where the “products” change daily as startups appear, others are acquired and subsumed by more established firms, and still other competitors emerge from adjacent industries. Whether an organization chooses to build or buy, both approaches take time, so efficiencies gained need to be timely and reliable if they are going to offset investment and improve the years-long effort to bring new drugs to market.

The good news is that applying AI can be successful and worth the effort. In many cases, suitable AI solutions and partners already exist for biopharma companies seeking to support drug discovery and development. More than 125 startups related to AI have been identified for drug discovery alone. These companies raised $1.8 Billion in funding in the last decade, including at least $100 Million every year between 2015 – 20192. Meanwhile, IT and business process service providers have achieved some impressive success stories in helping Life Science companies with AI initiatives. The challenges are how to find the right solution or provider, and then how to rapidly help your organization make the most of that investment in an emerging field.

More good news: The process of identifying, vetting, contracting with and managing specialized AI partners is nowhere near as arduous as the drug discovery and development processes themselves. ISG has identified processes and principles for effectively working with service providers, and we have helped Life Science companies apply them successfully in AI-driven engagements. Successes across the compound lifecycle include: identifying candidate molecules; safety-case processing and improving patient experience during trials. Other use cases include combining AI with robotic process automation (RPA) to form intelligent automation solutions to manage trial data and streamline reporting; and scaling AI and RPA efforts to non-scientific business processes throughout the organization.

Read this ISG paper Artificial Intelligence in Drug Discovery and Development: Improve Your “Hit Rate” for Successful Projects to learn more about drug discovery and development AI use cases and their value, and to learn how Life Science companies can evaluate potential partners and structure working relationships.

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About the authors

Jenn offers more than 20 years of experience in the consulting industry where she has worked with the world’s leading organizations providing management, technology and outsourcing services. She has extensive experience in the life science industry and has served as both an advisor and provider of consulting services. Jenn’s consulting leadership’s roles include Managing Director at Alsbridge; Partner at Accenture, Global Account Leader at PwC/BearingPoint and Capgemini, where she set up its first Shared Service center. Jenn was awarded bronze Stevie® Awards in the category of Transformational Sourcing Relations Leadership at the 15th Annual Stevie Awards for Women in Business.

Fran works with global and regional biopharma and contract research organizations to streamline and optimize all phases of drug development and clinical sourcing. She helps identify gaps in alignment, implement practices that deliver measurable efficiencies and increase the value of outsourced relationships for all parties. Fran provides both broad insight and specific strategic and operational expertise on clinical outsourcing, service provider selection and engagement, service integration, governance, operational excellence and utilization of metrics.

John has been an author and editor for content at ISG Research since 2008 and is heavily involved in IT market research. He applies the skills and lessons learned to support the next wave of disruptive technologies and processes, working in telehealth and other healthcare transformation. Prior to joining ISG, John was an award winning journalist in the technology industry.

Aparna has 13 years of experience researching and writing on the impact of digital transformation across industries. Her work has involved conducting in-depth research and analysis focused on identifying future trends and developing differentiated frameworks for clients. Prior to joining ISG, Aparna developed a robust research practice for digital and strategic insights at Accenture.

Paul leads the ISG Provider Services group, which offers a variety of subscription-based research and project-based consulting services to the outsourcing service provider community. ISG Provider Services provides research and strategy guidance as well as helps service providers better target, win and retain clients.