Putting AI in R&D

The use of artificial intelligence in drug discovery is becoming increasingly common at Big Pharma and little biotech alike. We’ll talk to several leaders in the AI field to learn about some examples of their work. Can they speed the development of more drugs with better odds of success? The answer may well divide the winners and losers in the future.

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David Schenkein

David Schenkein

General Partner, GV

Dr. David Schenkein is a general partner at GV, where he co-leads the life science investment team. Previously, Dr. Schenkein spent ten years as chief executive officer and a member of the board of directors at Agios Pharmaceuticals, where he remains executive chairman.

Dr. Schenkein has been a hematologist and medical oncologist for 30 years. He currently serves as an adjunct attending physician in hematology at Tufts Medical Center. Prior to joining Agios, Dr. Schenkein was the senior vice president, clinical hematology/oncology at Genentech, where he was responsible for numerous successful oncology drug approvals and leading the medical and scientific strategies for their BioOncology portfolio. While at Genentech, he served as an adjunct clinical professor of medical oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Dr. Schenkein holds a B.A. in chemistry from Wesleyan University and an M.D. from the State University of New York Upstate Medical School.

Anne Heatherington

Anne Heatherington

SVP and Head of Data Sciences Institute, Takeda

Anne Heatherington, Ph.D., is head of Takeda’s Data Science Institute and a member of the R&D senior leadership team. Dr. Heatherington has more than 20 years of experience in the pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical industries. New to the organization as of February 2019, Dr. Heatherington is tasked with ensuring the company gets creative in how it brings its best people, technology and ideas together in unexpected ways to build and infuse a data and digital culture across R&D, including growing the company’s informatics capabilities in research; pioneering new approaches to modeling and simulation; and promoting learning through artificial intelligence. To work towards these goals, she is applying quantitative strategies in all aspects of drug development to drive innovation, efficiency and decision making across the organization.

Throughout her career, Dr. Heatherington has led organizations and programs in large pharma, mid-size biotechs and startups. Before joining Takeda, Dr. Heatherington worked as head of clinical development at Summit Therapeutics. She also spent 13 years at Pfizer, where she held several executive leadership roles, including vice president and head of quantitative clinical sciences. She earned her bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from Queen’s University Belfast in the United Kingdom and her doctorate degree in pharmacokinetics from the University of Manchester in England. 

John Connolly, PhD

John Connolly, PhD

Chief Scientific Officer, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI)

John Connolly, PhD, is the chief scientific officer (CSO) at the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), where he designs and executes PICI’s overall research strategy in close collaboration with the institute’s leadership team, center directors and scientific steering committee.

As a human immunologist, his research interests focus on immune monitoring and immunometabolism. Dr. Connolly previously served as CSO of Tessa Therapeutics, a clinical stage cell therapy company focused on solid tumor immunotherapy, and one of PICI’s strategic partners. He is an associate professor at National University of Singapore and an adjunct associate professor of Immunology at Baylor University, where he served on the Board of Governors for the Institute of Biomedical Sciences.

He is also a senior principal investigator and director for translational immunology at the Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biology (IMCB) A*Star. Additionally, Dr. Connolly serves as director for the IMPACT Program, a multi-disciplinary national initiative focused building cell therapy manufacturing, clinical and regulatory capability for Singapore.

Dr. Connolly received his PhD in Immunology from Dartmouth Medical School and studied human dendritic cell biology under Dr. Michael Fanger. During this time he was involved in the development of immunotherapeutic preclinical models and clinical trials for glioblastoma multiforme (GBM). He moved to the Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, a fully translational research institute dedicated to rationally designed vaccines against cancer and infectious disease. Dr. Connolly served as the director of Research Initiatives for the Baylor Research Institute, leading a large integrated translational research resource and multi-institutional programs that involved a number of international sites. During his tenure at Baylor, he was the central core facility director of the NIAID Centers for Translational Research on Human Immunology and Biodefense, an NIH-funded consortium of basic, translational research and clinical trials focused on vaccine design. Dr. Connolly is the past president of the Board of Directors of The American Cancer Society in N. Texas and founding director of the Singapore Immunology Network’s Immunomonitoring Platform.

Maria Wendt

Maria Wendt

Head of Biologics Research US, Sanofi

Maria Wendt is Head of Biologics Research US at Sanofi, based in Framingham and Cambridge, MA. She has spent the last 20 years at the interface of computation and biology. At Sanofi, she oversees the biologics discovery organization in the US from target validation to candidate nomination, and platform innovation portfolio. Her organization includes antibody generation and HT screening, protein engineering, protein production and characterization, structural biology, and computation and automation technologies. Modalities focus on antibodies, including state of the art bispecific and multispecific platforms. Prior to this she was Head of Science of Genedata AG, a global informatics software and consulting firm for the life sciences, based in Basel Switzerland. She was founding principal scientist of Genedata Biologics® and Genedata Bioprocess® platforms. GDBx and GDBp are global, foundational, enterprise data management, workflow support and data analysis platforms supporting end-to-end biologics research and development processes, employed by the majority of top pharmaceutical and biotech organizations worldwide. In the early part of her career, she focused on -omics Big Data and was one of the leaders of the EU Framework 6 InnoMed Predictive Toxicology consortium.

Karen Akinsanya

Karen Akinsanya

Executive Vice President, Chief Biomedical Scientist, Head of Discovery R&D, Schrödinger

Karen Akinsanya, Executive Vice President, Chief Biomedical Scientist, Head of Discovery R&D, joined Schrödinger in 2018. Karen leads our Discovery R&D group with responsibility for preclinical drug discovery and translational research. She has more than 25 years of experience in academia, pharmaceutical R&D, partnerships, and licensing. Karen joined Merck Research Labs in 2005 and held positions of increasing responsibility in clinical pharmacology as a development team leader working on first-in-human studies through late-stage label studies before joining Discovery Preclinical & Early Development as a therapeutic area lead and then a search and evaluation lead in business development. Karen received her Ph.D. from the Royal Postgraduate Medical School at Imperial College in London, in endocrine physiology. After post-doctoral training at Imperial and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (UCL), Karen joined Ferring Pharmaceuticals in R&D working across sites in the UK and US. At Ferring, she led the discovery of a family of dipeptidyl peptidases related to DPPIV and pre-clinical characterization of FDA-approved FIRMAGON® for prostate cancer.

Dr. Vern De Biasi
presenting sponsor

Dr. Vern De Biasi

VP & Head of Strategic Partnerships at Cyclica

Vern is the Vice President, Global Head of Strategic Partnerships and supports Cyclica’s growth by scaling Cyclica’s partnership efforts and global presence. Prior to joining Cyclica Vern served in multiple senior leadership roles with over 20+ years of experience in discovery and late stage development, working with the internationally recognized pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In his most recent position as Head of Digital, Data and Analytics, Vern lead a team tasked with realising competitive advantage and value through digital, data and analytics, associated with a 3,000 employee global R&D Discovery and preclinical organisation. Prior to that, Vern held the role of Head of Emerging Platforms, where he led a team tasked with discovering and incubating new external platforms for GSK R&D, and Head of Platform Technology and Science at GSK R&D, Asia in Shanghai. In these roles, Vern oversaw the development of novel transformational platforms in areas of AI and deep learning, miniaturised biology with the application of scientific and computational power to the R&D process. Vern has global experience having worked in Italy, China, the UK, and the United States. Vern received his PhD in Analytical Chemistry from the University of Hertfordshire, UK.

John Carroll


Founder & Editor, Endpoints News

John D. Carroll is a biotech analyst and writer with decades of prize-winning experience in journalism. A co-founder of Endpoints News, he has covered biopharma for the past 15 years. Aside from his previous daily industry coverage at FierceBiotech, where he was named editor in 2003, leaving in 2016, Carroll has been a regular speaker at biotech events around the globe. He’s been quoted by The New York Times, The New Yorker, Financial Times, The Times of London and more. He’s also keynoted at biotech gatherings around the world and addressed student audiences at MIT and Harvard.