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A way to develop new and better drugs quicker and more cheaply is what everyone wants. Ray Barlow, e-Therapeutics PLC’s (LON:ETX) chief executive, believes his company is pioneering a way to achieve this. “We are firmly of the view that we have created a unique and sophisticated computer-based drug discovery platform, which is significantly more rapid and productive than other approaches available to the industry.” Barlow has only been in charge for a few months, but has already undertaken a strategic review that has seen the focus on internal discovery projects narrowing from six to the two most commercially attractive. He is also looking to out-license two of the other projects and to forming disease-specific partnerships with other industry players. Network approach Underpinning everything is e-Therapeutics' network-driven drug discovery (NDD) platform. Networks are a rapidly growing area of drug research. Instead of focusing just on one gene mutation or single target, the network approach looks at the broader interactions within disease mechanisms. E-Therapeutics’ platform is founded on the ability to “open the aperture” and look at disease biology as an interconnected network. The in-silico part of the engine uses a very sophisticated computational approach enhanced with artificial intelligence tools and other state-of-the-art analytical approaches to build and analyse network models of disease’. The final part maps which compounds will have a positive impact on disease from a database of tens of millions of active compounds. It’s a meshing of computers and biology or as Barlow puts it: “A unique method to interrogate biology to create new and better drugs in a more efficient and effective way." Currently it takes about 24 months to take a new drug from a concept to a hit, but using e-Therapeutics’ computational techniques, Barlow reckons this can be cut to nine months or less, as well as bringing a whole range of "novel and differentiated products to the table". Cancer the focus “One of the challenges with a highly productive platform is choosing which programmes to develop yourself with the resources you have available," he said. The two immuno-oncology (helping the patient’s own body fight the cancer) products it will develop internallyare checkpoint signalling modulation and tryptophan breakdown. Both are seeing significant research activity currently. Checkpoint signalling modulation can increase the anti-tumour activity of immune cells, while tryptophan breakdown is aimed at preventing the suppression of T-cell responses in cancers. Why those two? Barlow, who joined from US giant Amgen, says the strategic review was carried out with help of a number of big pharma and biotech peers and a systematic analysis of data, market opportunity and unmet commercial and clinical need led to those two products being selected. Licensing The plan now is to find partners to help take other programmes to the next stage of preclinical development. The company will take its Hedgehog tumour treatment and an anti-influenza programme to the industry as potential out-license opportunities and to help demonstrate the effectiveness of its NDD approach. Publishing data Another way to enhance NDD’s reputation is to publish data on work carried out so far. E-Therapeutics’ platform has identified numerous molecules and data in diverse areas of biology and these will be published to validate further the network-driven discovery approach. Any funding generated from this will go back into the platform to develop network models for other complex diseases such as neurodegeneration, fibrosis and triple negative breast cancer. And that versatility is another plus of the NDD platform, says Barlow, with a multitude of complex and serious diseases open to investigation by the method. Funding until 2019 At the end of January, cash was £14mln, since when e-Thera has received a tax credit of £2.8mln, and that should be sufficient to fund the company into 2019, according to research house Edison. By that time, the aim is to have new deals in place. Attendance at industry conferences, such as the recent AI Pharma event, and the publication of new data will highlight the abilities of the platform to support the partnership push. “My first three months were internally facing, but now we will start having conversations with big pharma, engage with biopharmas, the new technology-based “industry disrupters” and generally go out into the world," Barlow said. Barlow believes e-Therapeutics was ahead of its time in pioneering the network route, but now the industry is coming around to its way of thinking. "Our network-driven view of biology and disease is gaining more and more attention in literature and the industry. “We are looking forward to ride the wave at the amazingly exciting intersection of biology and technology.”NEXT ARTICLE
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