AI: A Refreshingly New Way to Approach Neurology

By Matthew Green
21 October 2018
Noor Shaker
Noor Shaker
Noor Shaker is using machine learning to develop drugs capable of fixing once incurable brain conditions

When it comes to developing drugs, the human brain is its own worst enemy. Though our pre-frontal cortex – the most complex structure known in nature – has devised countless remedies for the body that keeps it alive, the organ itself is almost impervious to treatment. The problem is that the filter system that stops toxins passing into the brain also blocks the very medicines designed to cure what ails it. Noor Shaker wants to solve this problem – with the molecular equivalent of a skeleton key.

As a computer science student at Damascus University, Shaker fell in love with machine learning. She left Syria in 2008 to take a series of academic posts in Belgium and Denmark before attending Entrepreneur First, the London-based accelerator, in 2016. It was here that she met Vid Stojevic, a Croatian theoretical physicist. They hit upon the idea of pairing Shaker’s AI expertise with Stojevic’s knowledge of quantum physics to build computer models capable of discovering new drugs that would be exponentially faster than humans.

As Shaker and Stojevic point out, it takes an average of 15 years and $2.1 billion to bring a new drug to market. They reckon they can reduce those numbers by half. GTN, the startup the pair co-founded in 2017, announced in May that it had raised $2.1 million in a seed round led by Octopus Ventures and Pentech.
Now based in London, Shaker is focused on her next goal: developing medicines capable of sailing through the blood-brain barrier and conquering once incurable neurological diseases.

“We want machine learning to be able to propose compounds that the chemist wouldn’t have thought of,” Shaker says. “At the end of the day, it could save people’s lives.”

Learn more about the GTN organisation on their website: gtn.ai