Flagship Pioneering Senior Principal and Head of Pioneering Intelligence (PI) Armen Mkrtchyan describes the PI initiative and how it is driving progress in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
What is Pioneering Intelligence (PI), and how does it support Flagship and its ecosystem?
Pioneering Intelligence is a strategic initiative that is building unique AI/ML know-how to accelerate innovation across the Flagship enterprise. We are pioneering advances in machine intelligence, including generative models, to augment the capabilities of Flagship companies, amplify our process of creating breakthrough innovations, and originate new platform companies built on AI advances. We see opportunities to address specific challenges faced by our companies and origination teams as they develop solutions for patients and the planet, as well as to solve foundational problems in biology, computation, and beyond.
What was the impetus for starting PI?
We witnessed the tremendous progress in AI/ML impact many areas in which Flagship operates, including drug molecule design, optimization, diagnostics, and biomanufacturing, and saw an opportunity to position ourselves at the forefront of this progress. Our vision in creating PI was to institutionalize AI/ML knowledge while leveraging best-in-class ML infrastructure and elevating the AI advances happening across the ecosystem, supporting Flagship as it navigates toward transformational outcomes in human and planetary health.
For Flagship, PI is an increasingly important initiative for advancing and integrating the fields of computation and biology, which have yet to reach their full potential, but we see as mutually enabling innovation engines when combined. For example, because AI can surpass our human ability to generate complex insights, AI could better identify the governing rules of biology so that we can program medicines to have desirable outcomes, dramatically reducing the cost and development time for therapies.
Can you describe the team and culture?
The PI team includes computational scientists and engineers from a variety of backgrounds, including neuroscience, theoretical physics, computer science and engineering, applied math, and systems biology. The idea behind bringing these diverse skillsets together is to draw on the vast reservoir of knowledge from across the scientific spectrum, as well as lend a fresh perspective to the field of computation to inspire truly groundbreaking ideas and push the AI/ML field far beyond incremental progress. This diverse team is bonded by a culture that values imagination and encourages the use of that imagination to dream big, even scary, dreams. From those starting points, our team works together to continuously iterate and learn in relentless pursuit of emerging new solutions and products.
What does the future hold for this initiative?
PI is going to be a key partner in creating pioneering solutions within and outside the Flagship ecosystem, as well as a source of industry-leading AI-focused companies. We will work to create cohesion between the digital and biological spheres to enable scientific leaps, helping to create novel therapies, sustainability solutions, and more. Many capabilities in generative AI are emergent and our ability to unlock these capabilities relies on our aptitude to explore and, with Flagship companies, push the boundaries of what’s possible.
In the short term, PI will also become a destination for exchange of information for the AI/ML community. In November, we are holding a summit to bring together AI/ML leaders from high-technology, pharma, and biotech companies along with leading academic researchers and innovators. This event provides an opportunity to discuss challenges for ML innovation in healthcare and life sciences, as well as propose solutions for how we can collectively accelerate progress.