April 3, 2023

Europe can't match OpenAI — but Silicon Valley could learn from us

The continent's array of medical AI companies provide a model for ethical growth

Eleanor Warnock

2 min read

Picture: DALL-E/Stable Diffusion

The world is still losing its shit over each successive OpenAI release.

But let’s take a minute and get excited about some other AI news. AI biotech unicorn Owkin said on Friday that it was leading a new €33m consortium — backed by the French government — to improve cancer diagnosis and better tailor treatments to individuals.

While Europe is, undoubtedly, lagging in the generative AI race, it’s performed incredibly well when it comes to innovations in AI-driven medicine.

In 2020, Oxford’s Exscientia brought an AI-discovered drug molecule to human clinical trials for the first time ever (though the study eventually failed). In 2021, London’s DeepMind spun out a unit, Isomorphic Labs, to work on AI drug discovery using protein-folding AI model AlphaFold. And in 2023, European AI drug discovery startups continue to attract funding.


Still, OpenAI’s recent progress makes AI drug development seem frustratingly slow. The latest GPT-4 Technical Report shows how that model could be used in pharma, either to look for existing patents or look for compounds with similar properties to a certain medicine.

No doubt that these kinds of models will be applied more and more as one tool in the arsenal of AI drug discovery companies — despite how terrible they are at science (hello, made-up academic papers).

But wouldn’t it be great if AI medicine developed at the same speed and attracted the same hype that we see around large language models like GPT-4? And wouldn’t it be great if new large language models had the same guardrails — the equivalent of clinical trials — that are required in medicine? Each have something to learn from the other.

Eleanor Warnock

Eleanor Warnock was Sifted’s deputy editor and cohost of Startup Europe — The Sifted Podcast. Find her on X and LinkedIn