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May 24, 2017

AI for Good: Unlocking health-promoting benefits with AI (Q&A)

ITU News

ITU News interviewed Dr Nora Khaldi, Founder and Chief Scientific Officer, Nuritas™ and Emmet Browne, Chief Executive Officer, Nuritas™

Dr Khaldi, can you tell us about what Nuritas™ does and how it uses AI for good?

NK — Nuritas™ is the first company in the world to use artificial intelligence and proteom­ics to find and unlock particular molecules in food, called peptides that have extraordinary health benefits.

To break this down a bit further, every food has trillions of molecules. We are interested in a subset of molecules called bioactive peptides, which are embedded in food protein structures. These peptides can modulate and prevent many diseases by binding to specific receptors or pro­teins in the human body. These peptides have remained dormant in food for over hundreds of millions of years, and it is only now, through our technology, that we can access them and will be making them available in a cost-effective way to consumers around the world.

In a nutshell, we live in an aging world that is growing in numbers and disease types. Through our technology, we aim to help people live healthier for longer through these natural food bioactive peptides.

What inspired you to delve into research on food ingredients and what benefits does it bring to humanity?

NK — It is estimated that 97% of global health­care expenditure is focused on the treatment of disease while only 3% is spent on prevention. With estimates that soon 1 in 3 people will be facing a disease, this system is simply unsustainable, illogical and is ultimately causing more harm than good.

This is why I created Nuritas™. As I began my career in mathematics, moving on to a PhD in Molecular Evolution and Bioinformatics, fol­lowed by post-doctoral work in the food area, I began to realize that the key to reducing and preventing disease, as well as completely reshaping how we look at health, begins and ends with food.

Indeed, what I found within my particular research was that there are trillions of molecules in food with many different and sometimes life-changing effects, that we just have not had the resources to unlock and find what lies within. That is, until now.

We are the first company in the world to use a revolutionary combination of artificial intel­ligence and proteomics to find and unlock nature’s secrets. These disease-beating mole­cules are natural (sourced from food), do not have damaging side effects (due to their natural source) and are also scientifically proven. Very importantly as well, they come from food and food by-products and thus are sustainable.

Our technology is thus making it possible for bil­lions of people to include, in an affordable, prac­tical and sustainable way, these disease-fighting ingredients in their everyday lives.

Which of your discoveries to date provide the most optimism in terms of their wider applications and potential?

NK — I couldn’t choose just one, all of our ingredients are tackling widespread health issues. We have found peptides that tackle pre­diabetes, MRSA, and inflammation (which is at the base of many diseases), just to name a few.

EB — I’m the same. I couldn’t choose one, however, we recently received very significant EU Horizon 2020 backing to accelerate the late-stage research and commercialization of our prediabetes ingredient. This is a functional food type product with enormous global preventative potential to help, for example, the one in three Americans who suffer from prediabetes moving on into full-blown diabetes. A way to go still on this one, but it is a clear example of why we, and many others, are so excited about what we have the ability to deliver here at Nuritas.

Will products by Nuritas™ soon be on the market?

NK — Yes, our first products should be on the market in early 2018, which we are very excited about.

EB — We’ve been able to achieve this very quickly, not only due to our discovery platform, but we also have multiple revenue streams avail­able to us — from finding our own ingredients and licensing them to collaborating with multi­nationals to find targeted ingredients based on their specific strategic needs. In all cases, our deals have varied with a number of components and timeframes delivering revenue. An ideal example of this is the deal that was announced with BASF in January 2017, which focused on an existing peptide ingredient of ours in addi­tion to collaborating on an on-demand search and find basis for a number of game-changing new ingredients.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

NK — As we are a company doing something for the first time, there have been and will be numerous challenges. I think finding individuals and companies that understand the breadth of our vision can be difficult sometimes. When I first started, I had many people tell me that what we are doing now could not be done. I’m glad I trusted my gut and just kept going.

EB — To me, the most challenging aspect is finding the right people to help us achieve our full potential. From a personal perspective, it can also be difficult as we grow exponentially to lift above the minute-to-minute to take the big-pic­ture, strategic viewpoint. We are getting better and disciplined at doing this and I am convinced this is what will allow us to grow even faster.

What are your aims for the future?

NK — We aim to help the globe deal with a myriad of growing health issues. Indeed, a growing population that is aging brings a huge responsibility to us all to help. We at Nuritas™ use AI to play our part in improving the lives of billions of people around the world.

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