Editor’s note: February is Black History Month—a time for us to come together to celebrate the diverse identities and perspectives that make up the Black experience. Over the next few weeks, we will highlight Black-led startups and how they use Google Cloud to grow their businesses. This feature highlights Valence Discovery co-founder Therence Bois who’s transforming drug discovery with artificial intelligence and advanced deep-learning technologies.
Despite significant technological advances in the last few decades, many diseases are still untreated, leaving patients with inadequate treatment options. Although innovative drug therapies may improve quality of life, developing new medications is expensive and time-consuming, and fraught with failure. To help people get the medicines they need faster, pharmaceutical companies and innovative biotechs are turning to advanced artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technologies to significantly accelerate R&D and improve success rates in the path to developing new treatments.
AI and ML algorithms are typically most powerful when there is a lot of training data. In biomedical discovery, this corresponds to well-studied and well-understood diseases when patients’ needs may be less than in more novel and underserved areas of biology. Crucially, however, the large and robust datasets needed to design and discover novel treatments are often limited in these novel disease areas, rendering them unfit for disruption with advanced computational tools.
We founded Valence Discovery (Valence) to solve these challenges. Our ML platform for molecular design and optimization uses deep learning techniques that are specifically adapted for sparse and incomplete biomedical datasets like those we find in these high-value and intractable areas of biology—allowing scientists to effectively design effective therapeutic candidates against their disease of interest.
Valence partners with drug discovery groups of all shapes and sizes, from academic labs to leading contract research organizations like Charles River Labs, to support them with AI-enabled drug discovery capabilities. Valence is committed to pushing the field of ML research in drug discovery forward, and democratizing access to advanced computational methods for drug design with the aim of improving human health.
Creating new AI tools for drug design and discovery
Valence began as a PhD biotech project at the Canadian AI research institute Mila where our founding team built deep learning tools for drug discovery and design. While launching our startup, we knew we couldn’t accelerate time to market without a scalable cloud-based platform that included built-in AI and ML capabilities. We looked at the options and identified Google Cloud, including the Google for Startups Cloud Program, as the best choice for an AI startup such as ourselves and as the right partner to help us cost-effectively scale Valence.
We also needed a reliable technology partner to help manage and optimize applications and infrastructure so our small, dedicated team could focus on creating new AI tools for developing innovative drug therapies. Since migrating to the secure-by-design infrastructure of Google Cloud, we’ve significantly reduced expenses, shifted more resources to R&D, and accelerated the launch of new AI-enabled drug design tools.
Specifically, we use Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) to quickly train and deploy large scale ML models and Molecular Dynamics simulations while leveraging Cloud Storage to efficiently and quickly store important datasets and machine learning artifacts. We also leverage the Google Cloud serverless product called Cloud Run to run at scale our various drug discovery oriented backend servers.
Scaling Valence with the help of the Google for Startups Cloud Program
TheGoogle for Startups Cloud Program supported the launch of Valence by giving us immediate access to Google Cloud credits which we used to cost-effectively trial and support our research activities.
Our Valence success story highlights the importance of asking others for help and guidance early on. By working closely with Google for Startup experts and our partners in the pharmaceutical industry, we’ve avoided technical and business missteps that allowed us to bring our ideas to market faster.
I encourage other Black founders to learn more about the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders, along with other organizations such asBlack Founders,Black Girl Ventures,Act House, andLightship Bootcamp.
The Google for Startups Cloud Program, as well as the holistic support Google has given us, has been invaluable to our success. Since joining, we’ve been featured in industry publications such asPharmaceutical Technology, expanded our partnerships, and received additional rounds of funding from investors. We can’t wait to see what we accomplish next as we empower pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative drug therapies that dramatically improve quality of life for people worldwide.
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