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SAN FRANCISCO—Researchers face complex issues in drug development, including which compounds under study will bind with a designated protein, whether these compounds can be made more powerful and what can be done about side effects. Often, these can be positives in one aspect of the drug and negatives in another, which means working through these issues can be a complex process.
Atomwise, founded in 2012, has created what it says is the first artificial intelligence (AI) computer program for recognizing and analyzing molecular structural interactions. This platform, called AtomNet, takes data from large numbers of experimental results for many different protein molecules and predicts the likelihood of a small molecule binding to a given protein. Using statistics instead of physical experimentation, the platform samples vast numbers of compounds, looking for patterns that suggest a successful interaction for eventual therapeutic purposes. AtomNet is the asset at the heart of Atomwise’s multiple new partnerships.
On Sept. 11, Atomwise revealed its fourth partnership agreement, which is with Hansoh Pharma of China. The partnership carries a $1.5-billion potential.
“Atomwise is the right partner for Hansoh Pharma to innovate using AI technology and generate a diverse pipeline of small molecules for oncology and other therapeutic areas,” said Dr. Aifeng Lyu, president of Jiangsu Hansoh Pharmaceutical Group Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of Hansoh Pharma. “We have been very impressed by Atomwise’s AI platform, capabilities and team, and by working together we believe there are exceptional opportunities to develop first-in-class and best-in-class therapies.”
According to Dr. Abraham Heifets, CEO of Atomwise, “There is exciting science happening throughout Asia, and enormous potential for leadership in innovative drug discovery. I am delighted to announce that Hansoh Pharma is our first partner in Asia. Hansoh Pharma is committed to innovation and shares our mission for global impact on patient health.”
Atomwise will provide its AI structure recognition program, while Hansoh provides the laboratory, production and marketing capabilities. Scientific teams from Atomwise and Hansoh Pharma will collaborate closely on the programs. The combination of Atomwise’s AI technology and medicinal chemistry and protein structure expertise with Hansoh Pharma’s fully integrated research and development, manufacturing and commercial capabilities has the potential to dramatically increase success and compress timelines for drug discovery and clinical development, Heifets said. Per the collaboration, Atomwise will receive undisclosed technology access fees, option exercise fees, royalties and income based on sublicensing or sale of assets developed through the collaboration.
Also in September, Atomwise started a collaboration with Cleveland-based OncoStatyx to develop new compounds that will inhibit KDM5B, a key epigenetic modulator in triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC). Atomwise will use its AI tech platform to model interactions between drug targets and inhibitors while OncoStatyx will provide proprietary data about the interactions between the target and various lead compounds.
“As an academic researcher, it’s very gratifying to see the translation of my lab’s work on tumor suppressor HEXIM1 into potential clinical medicines,” said Monica Montano, a professor of pharmacology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and chief scientific officer and co-founder of OncoStatyx. “We are planning to develop the first medicine to induce the expression of a tumor suppressor as the primary therapeutic approach to treat solid tumor cancers. I’m very interested to see what emerges from the collaboration between Atomwise and OncoStatyx; certainly things will move a lot more quickly now with access to Atomwise’s expertise.”
Another Atomwise partnership is with Seattle-based SEngine Precision Medicine. Here the AI program will be used to identify and develop inhibitors for selected mutant cancer cells. SEngine Precision Medicine will provide validated gene targets needed for the growth of mutant cancer cells. Atomwise will use its AI platform to discover and develop inhibitors against those targets. SEngine’s PARIS Test will be used to conduct in-vitro clinical trials that will screen candidate drugs and combinations against living tumors in patient-derived organoids.
According to Carla Grandori, founder and CEO of SEngine, “The combined capabilities of this collaboration create a model for the next generation of drug discovery to decrease time to market and lower the cost of clinical trials.”