Drug discovery and development is a vast and rapidly expanding domain that includes both aspiring entrepreneurs and multi-billion dollars holding large pharmaceutical companies. A Singapore-based firm, Engine Biosciences, has an experienced research team and a very unique method of discovering new therapies, which recently received $43 million to expand its operations.
In general, digital drug discovery includes the assessment of biological information on a large scale such as genetic material, gene expression, the structure of the protein, binding sites, and other factors.
It has previously encountered a brick wall, but not on the digital side, where a large number of potential molecular structures or processes can be developed, but on the next phase where those conceptions must be validated in vitro. As a result, a new generation of biotech firms has tried to incorporate these elements.
The Engine Biosciences has developed a set of programs known as NetMAPPR and CombiGEM. NetMAPPR is a massive gene and gene interactions web browser, that looks for “errors” that could help to stabilize a chemical or medication. CombiGEM is similar to a massive genetic testing procedure that may simultaneously examine thousands of genotypes, and modifications on diseased cells, allowing for rapid experimental validation of the effects and targets given by the digital site. The company is primarily focusing on anti-cancer medications but is expanding into other areas as opportunities arise.
According to Jeffery Lu, Co-founder, and CEO, their methodology is unique since it focuses on gene interaction. “Gene interactions are relevant to all diseases, and in cancers, where we focus, a proven approach for effective precision medicines,” he explained. “For example, four approved drugs are targeting the PARP enzyme in the context of mutation in the BRCA gene that is changing cancer treatment for millions of people. The fundamental principle of this precision medicine is based on understanding the gene interaction between BRCA and PARP.”
The company had initially received $10 million in 2018 and operating since then, but it will require more funding to market some of its products.
“We already have chemical compounds directed toward the novel biology we have uncovered,” said Lu. “These are effectively prototype drugs, which are showing anti-cancer effects in diseased cells. We need to refine and optimize these prototypes to a suitable candidate to enter the clinic for testing in humans.”
They are now collaborating with other companies, for animal testing, in order to prepare for human trials. The data generated from CombiGEN experiments, has been shared with several medical institutions across Asia. “We have built what we believe to be the largest data compendium related to gene interactions in the context of cancer disease relevance,” said Lu
Polaris partners headed a $43 million deal, which included entrants like Invus and a huge number of current investors. The funds will be used to cover the costs of testing and documentation associated with marketing a new medication.
“We have small molecule compounds for our lead cancer programs with data from in vitro (in cancer cells) experiments. We are refining the chemistry and expanding studies this year,” said Lu. “Next year, we anticipate having our first drug candidate enter the late preclinical phase of development and regulatory work for an IND (investigational new drug) filing with the FDA, and starting the clinical trials in 2023.”
It’s a long way from human studies to mainstream use and every drug discovery company is taking that risk. They are keen on developing a product that can help millions of cancer patients waiting for treatment.