A Baton Rouge software team working to shorten the time for developing new drugs is among the Top 10 firms advancing in a four-year $5 million IBM Watson AI XPRIZE global competition.

SynthLab, which is competing under the team name Deep Drug, is developing a drug design software that learns from the successes and failures of previous clinical trials to shorten the timeline for developing new drugs. SynthLab believes its software, eSynth, can slash the discovery time of new compounds in early-stage development from two to three years to three or four months.

“It’s not ready for prime time, don’t get me wrong. The core work has been done and the AI (artificial intelligence) filters are being added now, and they’re showing very significant returns,” said Patrick McGrew, Deep Drug team leader and managing member of SynthLab. “But there’s more work to be done on it. It has to learn how to read 3-dimensional molecules and several other things and then be tested before it’s ready to put out.”

SynthLab consists of McGrew and Supratik Mukhopadhyay, an LSU associate professor of computer science; Michal Brylinski, an assistant professor in LSU's biological sciences department's computational biological sciences; and Robert DiBiano, a specialist in deep machine learning and computer vision.

The scientists have been working on the concept since early this year and brought McGrew, a retired attorney and tech enthusiast, onboard this summer.

McGrew said other companies are working on similar technology that they will use in-house, but SynthLab plans to license its technology for general use.

SynthLab hopes to commercialize the software by the end of 2019, McGrew said. Achieving that will require $600,000 to $700,000 or so in investment funding.

The XPRIZE competition, launched in June 2016, will culminate in three finalists in the grand prize competition on the TED2020 stage in front of a live in-person and online audience. A $3 million grand prize, $1 million second-place prize and $500,000 third-place prize will be awarded, along with $500,000 milestone prizes going to 10 teams during fall 2018 and 2019.

SynthLab is among 59 teams representing 14 countries that are advancing from among 147 entrants in the competition to develop and demonstrate how humans can collaborate with powerful artificial intelligence  technologies to tackle some of the world’s greatest challenges.

“XPRIZE is proud to recognize the 59 teams paving the path forward on how AI can be used as a tool for good,” said Amir Banifatemi, prize lead for the IBM Watson AI XPRIZE.

The teams are from the United States, Canada, Australia, Barbados, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Norway, Poland, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

The competition, which allows teams to define their own goals, has competitors developing AI technologies to address problems across a number of domains: health and wellness; learning and human potential; civil society; space and new frontiers; shelter and infrastructure; and energy and resources. Teams will be judged based on the standards they set in their plans, as well as the performance and scalability of their AI application, with the heaviest weight placed on the potential impact.

XPRIZE is a nonprofit that designs and implements innovative competition models to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Active competitions include the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE, the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, the $15M Global Learning XPRIZE, the $7M Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, the $7M Barbara Bush Foundation Adult Literacy XPRIZE, the $5M IBM Watson AI XPRIZE, the $1.75M Water Abundance XPRIZE, and the $1M Anu & Naveen Jain Women’s Safety XPRIZE.

Follow Ted Griggs on Twitter, @tedgriggsbr.