Artificial intelligence is more than just a ‘hot topic’ in
the pharmaceutical industry—it is actually influencing the way that major
industry players and even entire nations are thinking about the future. As more
AI-focused companies are launching, and as investment in AI technology is
increasing in the US and EU, China is speeding up its efforts to ensure that it
can be competitive in this burgeoning area.
In 2017, China released an “AI Strategic Plan” that
outlined the ambitious goal of making the country the undisputed world leader in
AI by 2030. Given China’s penchant for long-term planning and its proven
ability to make significant strides quickly, it’s best that competitors take
these intentions seriously. Already, Chinese investment in US-based biotechnology
and drug companies hit $1.4 billion this year, a huge leap from the previous year.
Meanwhile some of China’s own multinational IT corporations
like Tencent and Alibaba are making investments and acquisitions in health and
pharma AI. Tencent has invested in AI-driven start-ups iCarbonX and XtalPi,
while Alibaba has developed a platform dubbed “ET Medical Brain,” designed to
create new medical applications for AI.
“China’s ability to generate massive amounts of real-time medical data from more than 1 billion people in the local population, stimulated by rather flexible privacy laws is driving advancement,” writes Margaretta Colangelo of Deep Knowledge Ventures. Though she says that government programs are also helping to grow local AI and data science talent, Colangelo also warns that China is currently lagging behind its competitors in pharma and biotech innovation, which could limit its progress.
Will China ultimately dominate in AI—and on the rapid timeline that it hopes? That remains to be seen. Here on this blog we will continue to monitor the progress of both China and AI in general as this technology continues to transform pharma R&D.