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A.I. Startup Atomwise Has a Deal for Researchers Hunting for New Drugs

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the collaboration agreement that participants would sign includes confidentiality terms calling for non-disclosure of proprietary information on both sides.

Once on board, the researchers will each receive 72 compounds to test. The number 72 was chosen because researchers often test compounds by placing them in the wells, or depressions, in 96-well plates. The plates can be used on the lab benchtop or in automated testing. By providing 72 compounds, Atomwise leaves open the option for scientists to add other compounds in the extra wells. These might include control compounds whose responses in a certain test are already known, Levy says. The participating scientists are free to choose the tests they’ll use to evaluate the compounds sent by Atomwise.

“It’s possible some programs could lead to a successful invention,” Levy says. The collaboration agreement includes terms that govern any jointly developed intellectual property. If the scientist applies for a patent, Atomwise might have standing as a co-inventor, Levy says.

[This paragraph was amended to include further detail from Atomwise about its spending on AIMS.Atomwise isn’t providing any cash to support the scientists’ work, but it might offer further consultation and in-kind support as the experimental results emerge. The company’s largest contribution is to narrow down the number of compounds each lab will test—a drug screening project beyond the means of a university researcher, Levy says. None of the costs of the AtomNet screening computations—including the labor of staff scientists—is counted in Levy’s estimate of the amount Atomwise will spend solely to buy, prepare, and ship thousands of compounds for testing by AIMS participants. On those costs alone, Levy says, “We expect to spend a million dollars on AIMS.”

Illustration courtesy of Atomwise.

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