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In a test for AI, a buzzy machine learning startup inks drug discovery deal with Gilead

The founder of the online education company Coursera is making a big bet on AI in drug development — and got the attention of big drug maker Gilead.
Insitro CEO and founder Daphne Koller Source: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for The New York Times

SAN FRANCISCO — It took only a single, one-hour meeting in a Starbucks to convince venture capitalist Robert Nelsen that he was going to invest in the company being built by machine-learning whiz Daphne Koller. “She’s just an amazing force of nature,” said Nelsen, who invests for ARCH Venture Partners.

Koller’s company, Insitro, in a matter of months raised over $100 million from big-name investors including ARCH, Foresite Capital, Andreessen Horowitz, and the firm that manages Jeff Bezos’ personal VC investments. (Koller refers to Bezos by his first name.) Now, it’s time for the next step. $15 million — and up to $1 billion more down the line if it meets certain goals — for help in developing drugs to treat a common liver disease. It is the South San Francisco-based company’s first deal with a drug maker, and offers a test of whether artificial intelligence can remake drug development.

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