Us chip company nvidia has announced it will build the uks most powerful supercomputer in cambridge, supporting artificial intelligence research for drug discovery and other healthcare uses.

Nvidia said it aimed to build the machine, named cambridge-1, by the end of the year, and would invest about 40m into setting up and running the supercomputer.

The cambridge-1 supercomputer will serve as a hub of innovation for the uk, and further the groundbreaking work being done by the nations researchers in critical healthcare and drug discovery, said jensen huang, nvidias co-founder and chief executive.

Among the machines first partners will be pharmaceutical manufacturers glaxosmithkline and astrazeneca, gene analysis company oxford nanopore and researchers at guys and st thomas nhs foundation trust and kings college london.

Supercomputers can use machine learning algorithms to rapidly analyse millions of molecules before deciding which ones are most likely to be useful in clinical trials, accelerating the typically costly and time-intensive journey of drug discovery. in january, the first drug molecule invented purely by an ai algorithm entered clinical trials in just 12 months a process that would normally take up to four and a half years.

In addition to cambridge-1, nvidia also announced a set of ai tools designed specifically to help with drug discovery called nvidia clara discovery. the company said clara discovery could support researchers by analysing data at a massive scale, including information on existing treatments and research literature.

Accelerating drug discovery has never been so important, and it is investments like this that can make a real difference in our fight against countless diseases, said matt hancock, uk health secretary.

Ai has also found use in other healthcare capacities, such as helping to detect diseases such as breast cancer earlier and helping hospitals predict the upcoming demand for icu beds and ventilators during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nvidia said cambridge-1 would rank 29th in the top500, a list of the worlds most powerful supercomputers, three places above the uks highest-ranked machine at present. the uk has 10 supercomputers in the top 500, placing it fifth in europe behind france, germany, the netherlands and ireland. nvidia itself created the seventh most powerful supercomputer in the world, selene.

Nvidia said cambridge-1 would will become part of a planned ai centre of excellence in cambridge, alongside another uk supercomputer announced last month. that machine will be built in partnership with arm, which japans softbank agreed to sell to the us company in september.