SAN FRANCISCO — About two years ago, Simon Smith started counting the startups trying to bring artificial intelligence to drug development. Smith, an AI startup executive himself, found about 30 of them. Now? His tally is up to 148.

Smith’s list is incomplete — some companies are still in stealth mode, and others are hard to classify because they straddle the line between AI and traditional biotech — but its rapid growth is a clear sign of an industry on the rise. With big checks from venture capitalists and exploratory deals with drug makers, these startups are trying to cut costs and speed up progress in everything from discovering therapeutic targets to enrolling patients in clinical trials.

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