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Exterior shot of Richard Doll building.

The University of Oxford and King Abdulaziz University (KAU) have partnered to create a new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Precision Medicine. The new international collaboration will bring together experts in medicine, drug discovery and artificial intelligence with the aim of finding new treatments for common diseases as well as rare genetic conditions.

Over the next five years, this international collaboration hopes to develop new drug targets, as well as create new platforms and technologies to aid drug discovery. Education will also be a key component of the partnership, including welcoming students from Saudi Arabia.

Cornelia van Duijn, Professor of Epidemiology in the Nuffield Department of Population Health, and Dr Alejo Nevado-Holgado from the Department of Psychiatry will use the facilities of the Big Data Institute to lead a work package that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and genetic analyses to identify and verify molecules in the body that might be targeted by new drugs for common diseases including diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases, and rare diseases that are prevalent in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

‘The University of Oxford has been a global institution since we welcomed our first international students in the 12th century,’ says Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford. ‘Throughout our long history we have forged valuable partnerships with peers around the world so that together we could push at the frontiers of knowledge and identify solutions to shared problems. It is in that spirit that we join KAU to advance healthcare and drug discovery in the new Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Precision Medicine.’

The first programme of research will be on AI-guided drug discovery for rare and cardio-metabolic diseases, conducted by scientists from the Centre for Medicines Discovery (CMD) in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, the Department of Psychiatry, the Department of Statistics and the Nuffield Department of Population Health at Oxford University, and researchers from KAU. The partnership will build upon expertise from across the Medical Sciences Division, including NDPH’s expertise in observational epidemiology and randomised trials, led by Professor Sir Rory Collins.

‘We are thrilled to launch the KAU-Oxford innovation centre as part of a cooperation that has been going on for years between both universities. It is a truly leading international research centre. This centre is part of KAU’s strategic plans to be a university at the forefront of academic excellence and innovation worldwide,’ says H.E. Professor Dr Abdulrahman Al-Youbi, President of King Abdulaziz University.

‘The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has prioritised digital technologies and AI tools for creating and planning for the future as part of the Saudi Vision 2030; the Centre will focus on key diseases with national priority areas for research and development to build ingenious start-ups and companies for a knowledge-based economy.’

Professor Cornelia van Duijn added ‘This new initiative brings together researchers from across the University of Oxford with colleagues from King Abdulaziz University to find new treatments for common cardiometabolic diseases that affect millions of people worldwide as well as rare diseases that have a major impact on patients and their families. Using our expertise in mining genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics data, and our innovations in machine learning, we will be able to pinpoint potential targets for new drugs. We are excited to be part of this collaboration and look forward to welcoming the students who will be working with us on this project.’

Professor Richard Cornall, Head of the Nuffield Department of Medicine, says, ‘This exciting new partnership is a step forward for the newly established Centre for Medicines Discovery. We envision the CMD to play a key role in the future of drug discovery, and this collaboration with KAU will accelerate medicines discovery for patient groups with unmet needs.’

‘Digital technologies are playing a significant role in transforming the health care and discovery of medicines,’ says Professor Abdulmonem Alhayani, KAU Vice President for Educational Affairs. ‘The Centre will bond leading scientists from both universities and utilize core research strengths in AI, machine learning, data analytics and quantum computing to accelerate the development of novel, effective, and affordable medicines.’