Bill Gates: AI, gene-editing can improve healthcare in developing countries

What: Technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and gene-editing can help improve healthcare in developing countries, Bill Gates believes.

Such tools can assist in reducing childhood mortality and infectious disease, Gates said during the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’s Annual Meeting in Seattle earlier in February 2020.

“We have an opportunity with the advancement in tools like artificial intelligence and gene-based editing technologies to build this new generation of health solutions, so that they are available to everyone on the planet,” he said.

How: According to Gates, machine learning can be used to examine the microbiome, the results of which can be telling about nutrition disorders. The latter may include malnutrition in poorer countries and obesity in others.

AI is already being used to model the way some diseases spread, drug discovery and other areas of healthcare and medicine.
In a world-first, in January 2020, a team of UK and Japanese experts used AI to create a drug molecule that could potentially treat obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The drug is expected to enter Phase 1 trial, evaluating safety and toxicity on humans, later this year. 

UK drug discovery company Exscientia which worked jointly with the Japanese Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma on the project, said the research took less than 12 months compared to 4.5 years on average when “using conventional research techniques”.

Going forward: Yet, such innovative procedures are expensive and require specialised teams and laboratories. They are “still prohibitively expensive” for many developing countries, as the UN also reports, talking about a “widening genomics-divide in healthcare”.

As is the case with many technological discoveries, however, costs will most probably go down, as the technology advances, making them accessible to a wider portion of the world population.