Each year, trillions of dollars are spent in the pharmaceutical industry to design “new drugs” that might typically take more than 10 years to reach the market.
But now, through technology, big tech giants and driven startups are trying to change that by leveraging existing drug data to cure life-threatening diseases. If successful, this would mean redefining “discovery.”
Repurpose.AI, a San Diego company that uses machine learning to aid drug discovery, has joined the fight to treat the novel coronavirus.
Through its AI drug discovery platform, the local startup can discover drugs that may be repurposed and serve as therapeutics to prevent illness as well as treat existing illnesses.
In less than a year, the company has developed a robust pipeline of patent-pending therapeutics for gastric disorders, neurological disorders and weight disorders among others.
Today, the company is working with partners to discover therapeutics to inhibit COVID-19 infection and reduce the lethal effects of the infection.
Partners were not disclosed.
“Now, more than ever the world needs rapid drugs for this particular virus (COVID-19). So we essentially dropped everything else we were working on to refocus and redouble our efforts toward this fight” co-founder of Repurpose.AI, George Nicola said.
Founded in 2018, by former scientist and founder Nicola, Repurpose.AI was launched by the Nex Cubed Digital Health Venture Studio based in La Jolla. Nex Cubed is also an investor in the startup and serves in an advisor role on its board.
To date, the Nex Cubed portfolio companies have an aggregate value of over $200M and provide access to a network of over 40 investors ranging from angel to late-stage to institutional investors.
For Repurpose.AI, the company’s mission is to reduce discovery drug time-to-market under 10 years and cost-to-market more than $1 billion.
Seeking to disrupt and advance the pharmaceutical industry, Repurpose.AI transforms drug discovery by leveraging the historical compendium of drug development data. Combined with unbiased AI, the startup can create Phase II and III ready drug candidates in days, rather than decades, as well as, get drugs to the clinic at a quicker and lower cost.
“We rely on a large ecosystem of contract, researchers and partners to carry the weight on the experiment. This allows us the ability to pursue indication that otherwise might be overlooked or might not be considered as attractive to larger companies,” Nicola said.
However, Repurpose.AI is not alone in this emerging market. Running in the same race are companies ranging from giants like Google and IBM to startups such as
Insilico Medicine, Recursion Pharmaceuticals, Pharnext and BenevolentAI.
All are deeply invested in the tools of AI, using them to analyze millions of examples of drug and patient data and tease out patterns of significance.
In addition to the computational approach, Repurpose.AI brings to drug discovery, it also taps into vast data sets and input that’s typically neglected by other companies, Nicola said. By putting data into context, Repurpose.AI gives scientists the best possible starting point when exploring drug candidates.
“We have millions of data points that are used for our training, our test set is on the broader side of about two thousand known drugs that are processed to make these predictions,” Nicola said.
Repurpose.AI’s digital chemistry platform stands on the shoulders of decades of research led by the trillions of dollars of the taxpayer, stockholder and privately funded pharmaceutical investments and millions of clinical trial patients, Nicola said.
Overall, these AI-driven efforts offer a glimmer of economic hope. In an era in which the cost of drug development is a daunting obstacle, smart algorithms may someday enable medical stakeholders to derive more value from the trillions of dollars that have already been spent on drug research.
Nicola, who is leading Repurpose.AI’s technology developments, formerly helped launch several biotech companies and holds veteran experience in early pharmaceutical development. To date, Nicola has authored 5 patents and 15 peer-reviewed manuscripts and received his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology and MBA from the Rady School of Management at UC San Diego in 2009.
Looking ahead, the company said it will continue operating its chemistry-based drug repurposing efforts and plans to use its past milestones to ink more partnerships. Regarding COVID-19, the team is working diligently to get its repurposed drugs tested, validated and administered to patients in need. The early-stage startup employs 4 local staffers and has 5 advisors in total.
“San Diego has always been a city with very tight and highly collaborative biomedical community, this has increased tremendously in the past few months, due to the virus. I’ve been fortunate to have ties with both the academic and with pharmaceutical industries here.”