Science

Here is DarkNPS, an AI that has imagined many new drugs

Synthetic drug manufacturers are usually one step ahead of authorities and investigators. However, a team of scientists is trying to reverse the trend with their artificial intelligence. It allows imagining new synthetic products likely to appear in real life.

Get ahead of the manufacturers

In February 2021, we mentioned xylazine, a new street drug responsible for a third of fatal opioid overdoses in the city of Philadelphia (USA). If this is a tranquilizer in general use in veterinary medicine, other drugs are created from scratch such as Flakka or Bath Salts (bath salts). Historically, synthetic drug manufacturers have always been one step ahead of law enforcement and institutions whose role it is to determine the risks of these drugs. In fact, the composition and consequences of a new drug can only be determined after its discovery.

In November 2021, however, researchers from the University of Alberta (Canada) published their work in the journal Nature Machine Intelligence. However, the post details an unprecedented approach using an artificial intelligence that goes by the name of DarkNPS. Thanks to deep learning, this AI could help reverse the trend and gain an advantage over drugmakers.

Credits: gorodenkoff/iStock

Helpful AI despite limited capabilities

DarkNPS integrates a database of no less than 1,700 synthetic drugs that already exist. However, this AI constantly assimilates new knowledge and, above all, imagines new drugs. These are new synthetic products that will probably appear on the market one day. In other words, these are fictitious compositions that the AI ​​develops before manufacturers even have the idea of ​​potentially creating them. To date, DarkNPS has already imagined almost nine million new substances.

Experts typically use mass spectrometry to define the composition of a new drug that has appeared on the market. However, this research takes weeks, even months, before yielding conclusive results. With DarkNPS, when a drug hits the streets, its composition can be identified in just a few minutes. The time saving is then considerable. 189 very recent drugs have already been integrated into the database. However, the researchers found that 93% of these products were part of the AI ​​forecast.

However, while the capabilities of DarkNPS are undeniable, they are still limited. In fact, the AI ​​cannot provide information about the psychological and/or physiological effects of the imagined drugs. In addition, it builds on existing drugs to develop more or less similar substances. Therefore, the AI ​​cannot imagine completely different drugs. Finally, the authorities have considered the risk that one day such a system will reach the hands of manufacturers. Therefore, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as well as the German criminal police, secured the AI.

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