AI Sweden: Joining forces to help answer big questions in AI

Written by:

Anders Holmén

Vice President and Head of Pharmaceutical Sciences, R&D

Claus Bendtsen

Executive Director, Data Sciences and Quantitative Biology, Discovery Sciences, R&D

Following this week’s launch of the ground breaking artificial intelligence research centre, AI Sweden, AstraZeneca scientists will soon be brainstorming the hottest topics in big data analysis with like minds from other founding partners, including Volvo and Ericsson.

It may sound an unlikely match but, when it comes to AI needs, we have a lot in common with car, telecoms and other industries. For example, programming a driverless car to find its way around a town requires similar imaging technology to identifying abnormal cells in a mass of normal ones. Both demand extremely challenging analysis of huge amounts of data.  

AI Sweden brings together industry, academia and the public sector in a unique partnership to accelerate applied AI research and innovation through collaboration and cross-industry sharing. As a major research presence in Sweden, AstraZeneca has been involved from the start and, with other partners, will help to shape the way that the initiative evolves.

AI Sweden is a perfect fit for us because, across our company, AI is playing a large and growing role in drug discovery and development – from early science and validation of targets, to clinical studies.

AI Sweden will span four key areas – life science, healthcare and medicine; technical products and systems; finance and business administration; and public sector, arts and humanities. The Swedish government’s innovation agency, Vinnova, has allocated 30 million Swedish Krona (£2.5 million) to support research proposals submitted by members on a competitive basis over the next three years.

The new initiative will be a melting pot for sharing experience and application of AI that will enable all the participants to move forward more quickly and effectively than if we worked in isolation. As well as contributing resources and knowledge to help drive collaborative projects, we will rotate our PhD, postdoctoral researchers, and other staff with AI expertise between our Gothenburg laboratories and the nearby AI Sweden. In this way, they will work alongside colleagues with complementary AI skills from different backgrounds.

Whatever our industry or institution, each of us already has access to good algorithms and mathematical models for gathering data, but we face the same hurdles in mining and analysing that data. For example, within drug discovery and development, we gather data from multiple genomic, laboratory and clinical sources of our own, and from the research literature. The big question for all of us is: “how do we structure, annotate and integrate all that information in an accessible format so that we can analyse it effectively and draw the right conclusions?”

We are very excited about submitting research proposals and accessing the expertise and infrastructure at AI Sweden. We see it as a way of helping to strengthen the scientific ecosystem in Sweden, and Gothenburg in particular. With our strong links to leading hospitals and academic institutions in the region, we are well placed to form collaborations to contribute and share information through the initiative’s Data Factory which will provide the infrastructure to support data storage and processing.

We welcome this great opportunity for open and transparent exchange of ideas and data that will help us optimise the application of AI and potentially allow us to bring our medicines to patients more quickly and efficiently.