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Worthian using AI to find a cure for cancer

Thu, May 11th, 2023
Worth School

Rory Ryan has been striving to make positive impacts on society through technology since leaving Worth and is now leading pioneering work using artificial intelligence to find a cure for cancer.

While studying for his Masters in Mechanical Engineering at Leeds University, Rory took on the role of president of the Engineering Society and thoroughly enjoyed growing a decrepit society to a vibrant one. It was fuel on his ‘entrepreneurial fire’ as he says: “I realised my passion for bringing people together around a good cause and pushing people towards a vision for something innovative and exciting.”

Returning to London after three years based in China’s Silicon Valley and exiting his first start-up that made portable blood-tests, Rory has now built a new company using artificial intelligence to design new medication for cancer. Rory, who was in Chapman House and left in 2009, said: “For over 20 years, scientists have attempted to block cancer-enabling proteins that are dysregulated in more than 70% of tumours. Unfortunately, only 1% of these proteins have been blocked with medication and there remain many cancers we have no cure for.”

Rory is CEO and co-founder of a company called PentaBind and his passion for the project to help find a cure for cancer is evident. He said: “We’re living in an exciting era where artificial intelligence can be applied to finally solve complex problems in biology.”

PentaBind’s team includes world-class scientists, clinicians and AI experts from Imperial College London, Francis Crick Institute, Cancer Research UK, GlaxoSmithKline and other world-renowned organisations. PentaBind’s AI can design new drug candidates in 20-fold reduced cost and time, replacing months of manual laboratory experiments with AI models running for only 48 hours and at the cost of electricity. PentaBind’s new cancer medication is made of fragments of AI-designed DNA sequences. These can be constructed like Lego pieces to form unique 3-dimensional shapes which can plug into the surface pocket of a cancer-enabling protein to block its activity in cells.

Despite AI’s incredible benefit to mankind, Rory adds a word of warning. He said: “AI has the potential to transform society in profound ways, from improving healthcare and education to optimising transportation and energy systems. However, as we continue to integrate AI into our daily lives, it is crucial that we remain mindful of its limitations and ensure that it is used ethically and responsibly for the betterment of all.”

Rory will return to Worth next Tuesday to talk to students about the impacts of AI in our society and entrepreneurship as part of the Spencer Lecture Series.

Worth likes to keep in touch and hear what former students are up to in their lives, and we run regular articles featuring alumni.

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