TKS and BenchSci Challenge: The Future of Pharmaceuticals

The Knowledge Society (TKS) and BenchSci are excited to enter a two-year partnership where TKS students will contribute ideas to help advance technology and solve novel, real-world problems. As part of the partnership, BenchSci will provide scholarship funding to support talented and ambitious students of all backgrounds who can't afford TKS. 

BenchSci is on a mission to increase life science research productivity by helping scientists make breakthrough drug discoveries and bring effective treatments to patients faster. Through BenchSci Forward, they strive to extend their positive impact on the world by directly improving health, the environment, and social justice for all. 

Following an exciting and successful challenge last summer where students identified new use cases for BenchSci's technology, TKS students had the opportunity to collaborate with BenchSci once again, this time focusing on the advancement of tech to accelerate drug-related research.

Throughout the challenge, TKS students worked hard to understand existing technology and data frameworks and propose plans for further advancement. By investigating existing biological knowledge, drug mechanisms, and tech innovation, students identified new ways to leverage existing systems for scientific advancement. In doing so, each team contributed to a long-term initiative that helps scientists to understand:

  • Why drugs are effective in one disease but not another sharing underlying molecular causes
  • Why two drugs interact with the same molecular targets yet don’t treat the same disease

To kick things off, teams were selected and paired with mentors from BenchSci. Working in small groups, TKS students collaborated on research, investigation, and ideation before pitching their findings in the form of a 4-minute pitch and dedicated website. 

BenchSci's leadership team, Liran Belenzon (Co-Founder and CEO), Uswa Shahzad (R&D Scientist), and Casandra Mangroo (SVP of Product and Science), then reviewed each pitch and selected finalists. 

All TKS students presented engaging and unique arguments to identify the potential for technological advancement to further scientific research. This involved proposing new ways to evolve technology that would allow insights into how proteins, genes, and pathways enable drugs to work. Identifying issues in clinical efficacy, toxicity, and drug-like properties, DockD proposed the winning solution: using deep learning models to help scientists predict the efficacy and outcomes of protein-molecule interactions during pre-clinical phases, thereby accelerating pre-clinical testing and streamlining the entire process. 

As part of DockD, Madison Page, Cameron Kroll, Sophia Tang, and Prisha Bhavsar demonstrated a fantastic understanding of the challenge and proposed an effective solution for developing existing technologies to advance scientific discovery. DockD was crowned the winner of the challenge and awarded a prize of $5,000 along with personalized BenchSci sweatshirts. 

Madison thanked Benchsci: 

“I want to thank you on behalf of my team for allowing us the opportunity to help BenchSci, help scientists better understand the biology and mechanisms of drugs. While all of my teammates have different experiences in biology and software, working on this challenge has really helped us deepen our understanding of the drug discovery process and we want to thank you for giving us the opportunity to work on solutions to improve it.”

After the awards session, students participated in a Q&A session where pitches and proposals were discussed by the entire group. Detailed feedback was also given to further support each student in pushing their limits of thinking to grow as young scientists and technologists. 

TKS student, Anya Singh, said:

"For us in TKS, we've had so much exposure to emerging tech that a lot of kids haven't had before and I hadn't heard of BenchSci prior to TKS. I wish more kids had that kind of exposure and that sparked the idea for how BenchSci can broaden the horizon past just scientists."

Dan Jacob, The Knowledge Society's Partnerships Director, had only fantastic things to say about the challenge and our partnership: 

“TKS’s partnership with BenchSci has provided our students with direct mentorship and access to some of the brightest minds in biomedical AI on the planet. Our students continue to work on innovative challenges and idea sprints, exploring the future of the pharmaceutical industry and new drug discovery. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter of this partnership will bring! 

Liran Belenzon was also impressed with the results of the challenge, stating: 

"Partnering with TKS is integral to our goal of mentoring youth and inspiring them to take on a career in STEM. Through the TKS Challenge, we want to break down barriers that underrepresented groups can face when accessing STEM education and give youth the chance to learn directly from industry experts in biology and machine learning. From understanding pharmacodynamics to creating drug prototypes with VR to improving diversity in STEM, all the ideas students shared were creative and inspirational. Our team members who volunteered as mentors and judges had a lot of fun coaching these scientists-in-the-making, and after a few weeks of collaboration, TKS students presented real, workable solutions that even might one day change the world. These kids are the future, and BenchSci is proud to support them and fuel their passion.

We're privileged to work with leading companies to equip young minds with the courage, skills, and determination to drive impact and make a real change in the world. Here’s a big thank you to BenchSci Forward and the team for partnering with us to support the future of scientists and technologists!