Flatt explained that 99% of the compounds that plants produce are unknown to the world's scientific community.
“So if you think about it, plants have already been a rich source of these bioactive molecules. So things like aspirin, which comes from the willow bark, or metformin, which is used as a first-line treatment for type 2 diabetes, which comes from the French lilac. These are all part of the thousand or so compounds that are known to science. Yet we and others have estimated the plants actually produce upwards of 10 million different compounds or more. So that leaves a lot of white space to explore and that's what we're doing with our AI platform to really accelerate that discovery process.”
Brightseed’s AI platform, called Forager, makes predictions about the health benefits of a given compound. When Brightseed first launched, predictions were around 3-4%. Today, Brightseed’s predictions are around 20% and that number continues to improve with each cycle, according to Flatt.
“Even 20% may not sound that impressive, but when you compare that or contrast it to the best-in-class approaches that are used by biomedical research institutes and pharmaceutical companies using high throughput screening of random libraries, those hit rates are usually anywhere from .01% to say, .03% — so pretty low,” explained Flatt. “It's the proverbial needle in the haystack approach and when the world typically screens for these you often screen hundreds of thousands, even sometimes a million or more compounds to find a good lead. And in this case, we can use the AI in our database to do essentially that screening in silico, or on the computer, which of course is a lot faster than doing the physical screening and that's really what is transformative about what Brightseed is doing.”
The highlight of Flatt’s work is when he makes a new discovery.
“You're in a way like a kid that's exploring a new area and digging around finding new stuff, discovering new bugs, new plants, hidden treasures. That actually for me, is the most exciting thing because there's literally not a week that goes by when we don't make a new discovery, either in the programs that we have that we funded ourselves or those from our partners.”
At their current rate, Brightseed said they plan to map the entirety of plant small molecules, their sources, and their impact on human biomedical targets by 2025.