Mom Nature is the unique medicinal chemist. The historical past of drug analysis is filled with efforts to disclose and replicate her work. And there’s lots of it. We have now most cancers medication derived from tree bark and antibiotics that come from the soil. However one realm that’s comparatively untapped as a supply of recent medicines is the human physique itself.
Empress Therapeutics co-founder and CEO Jason Park acknowledges that many at the moment out there medicines had been impressed by nature. However he provides that there are many small molecules already within us that maintain promise as new medication. These molecules make sense for drug analysis as a result of they co-evolved with people in states of each well being and illness.
“Isn’t the most probably place to search out chemical compounds that affect the human physique contained in the human physique?” Park requested.
Empress is making people, or extra particularly, human information, its new drug searching floor. The startup, which has been incubating throughout the laboratories of enterprise capital agency Flagship Pioneering for the previous two years, launched on Wednesday. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm is backed by the customary $50 million that Flagship places behind its startups at launch. It additionally has drug leads, and essentially the most superior of them may start human testing as quickly as subsequent yr.
The roots of Empress date again about six years, stated Park, who can be working associate at Flagship. The thought was to use the facility of genetics to chemistry so as to make small molecule drug discovery extra environment friendly and productive. Empress’s method begins with medical information, reminiscent of spit samples, stool samples, and biopsies. A few of these information are public however the firm additionally has proprietary medical information. Algorithms learn the DNA like a language to establish sequences that encode directions for chemistry within the physique that may be therapeutic.
In human historical past, there have been about 100 billion people on the planet, Park stated. However chemistry predates human life, mobile life, and single-cell life. Proteins and chemistry co-evolved, and the microbes in people primarily served as tiny medicinal chemists. Park stated evolution has examined and chosen chemical compounds that would turn out to be medication, and these molecules are simply ready to be found contained in the human physique.
“The most important medical trial in historical past has successfully been run throughout the 100 billion people which have ever lived,” Park stated.
There’s precedent for figuring out medication from compounds discovered contained in the human physique. Insulin is likely to be the very best recognized instance. One other one is Amgen’s Epogen, which is predicated on erythropoietin, a hormone produced within the kidneys. However Park stated attempting to find medication within the human physique hasn’t been achieved on a big scale, partly as a result of the technological instruments that allow it grew to become out there solely throughout the pasts decade. Along with synthetic intelligence and computational applied sciences, Empress additionally employs artificial biology. The corporate calls its tech platform Chemilogics, which is a mix of “chemistry” and “biologics.”
Empress isn’t the primary startup to use such new technological instruments to drug discovery analysis, however Park believes his firm is taking a novel method. Small molecule corporations historically display screen a whole lot of hundreds, maybe thousands and thousands of compounds to search out those that may hit a selected goal. Park stated Empress is utilizing genetics to study which molecules are essential and what these molecules do. The corporate then appears to be like for drug-like properties, reminiscent of efficiency towards a goal and selectivity to that concentrate on. A few of these molecules are good to go as medication simply as they’re discovered within the physique, however others might have a little bit of tweaking to make them higher medicines.
“Evolution doesn’t have a tendency to pick the absolute best model, it tends to pick what works,” Park stated. “[Empress] can enhance that.”
With its expertise platform, Empress is creating small molecules that deal with numerous lessons of proteins, reminiscent of cytokines, enzymes, G protein-coupled receptors, and ion channels. The molecules have potential functions throughout a variety of therapeutic areas together with immune issues, metabolic illness, neurology, most cancers, and ache. Empress’s R&D efforts are led by newly appointed Chief Scientific Officer Murray McKinnon, whose expertise contains serving as world head of the World With out Illness Accelerator at Janssen Prescribed drugs, a Johnson & Johnson subsidiary. McKinnon has additionally held senior immunology discovery roles at Janssen and Bristol Myers Squibb.
Prior to now two years, Empress’s expertise has yielded 15 drug leads. Park stated the effectivity of the platform signifies that there’s sturdy potential for extra progress. Discovering pharmaceutical companions to additional develop its drug belongings is an choice, and Park stated Empress will look intently at these alternatives.
Photograph by Empress Therapeutics