Merck has announced a collaboration with Iktos for the use of its generative modelling artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

The partnership is in order to facilitate the rapid and cost-effective discovery and design of promising new compounds.

Iktos’ AI technology, which is based on deep generative models, helps bring speed and efficiency to the drug discovery process, by automatically designing virtual novel molecules that have desired activities for treating a given disease.

Through the use of the AI technology, the two companies aim to tackle one of the key challenges in drug design: rapid identification of molecules which simultaneously satisfy multiple drug-like criteria for clinical testing.

The technology is already successfully established in other fields, such as image processing and automatic translation, but has only recently been applied to chemistry.

“This agreement is another illustration of how we aim to enrich our discovery engine with strategic technology-focused collaborations,” said Belén Garijo, member of the executive board and chief executive healthcare, Merck.

“Artificial intelligence is emerging as a pillar in the biopharmaceutical R&D model, giving us exponential opportunity to complement our existing expertise with further speed and better precision. For patients, this could mean faster access to novel treatment options.”

The news follows the announcement by Merck in December 2018 of a year-long licensing agreement with Cyclica Inc.

Merck also recently announced that it has been granted a US Patent for a novel combination of AI and Blockchain Technology, aimed at providing a solution for the secure integration of physical products into the digital world.