Our portfolio company NuMedii just announced a groundbreaking collaboration with Thomson Reuters, the world’s leading information provider for businesses. The Thomson Reuters Science division has quietly been aggregating an enormous database of biological, clinical, and pharmacological information over the past few years. As a biotech startup, NuMedii is focused on revolutionizing drug discovery by reducing the incredible inefficiencies and costs involved in small molecule drug development.
The drug development process is badly broken, and the statistics are astounding. About half of drug candidates in development fail in phase II clinical trials (safety trials) and another two thirds of the remainder fail in Phase III trials (efficacy). In all, more than 95% of experimental medicines that are studied in humans fail to be approved as both effective and safe. A company hoping to get a single drug to market can expect to spend $350 million before the medicine is available for sale. And, because so many drugs fail, large pharmaceutical companies that are working on dozens of drug projects at once spend on average $5 billion per new medicine. At an average cost of $5 billion, and with less than a dozen drugs approved by the FDA last year, it is inconceivable that this process can sustain itself with the current financial pressures in the health care industry.
The Numedii/Thomson Reuters partnership, which pairs NuMedii’s Stanford based data analytic technology with the massive data collections at TR, will create an unprecedented platform for systematically identifying new applications for existing drug compounds. This is called drug repositioning or drug repurposing, and it is important because of the interesting history of such efforts. The poster child example of a successful drug repurposing is the discovery of certain transient side effects during clinical trials of Sildenafil, a Pfizer drug developed for angina cardiovascular symptoms. Pfizer repositioned the drug for male impotence therapy, renamed it Viagra, and this drug became a blockbuster success. This and many other examples led the founders of Numedii to the big insight: The incredible complexity of human physiology is still poorly understood, the use of big data methodologies to uncover new relationships between known drugs and known diseases is in its infancy, and so a huge opportunity to develop an efficient drug discovery platform is right in front of the company.
NuMedii’s Big Data technology uses machine learning, pattern matching, and network biology algorithms to find new indications for existing drugs, a practice that epitomizes the new approach to scientific discovery. With the advent of the cloud and big data, the practice of science is moving from the “wet lab” to the computational world, where “dry lab biology,” is more efficient than older wet lab approaches. Although statistics on the number of dry lab biologists are hard to come by, these data hunters believe they are the wave of the future. For instance, using publicly available data, the founding scientists at Numedii surveyed the activity of large sets of genes in people affected by 100 different diseases and compared this genomic data set to hundreds of drugs that are already on the market. By comparing patterns of genes flipped on or off by the diseases and by the drugs, the team found unexpected connections. It turned out that a drug now prescribed for ulcers may also be a useful lung cancer treatment, for example, and that an antiepileptic compound may treat two forms of inflammatory bowel disease. The NuMedii business plan is focused on finding such already approved drugs or discontinued development compounds that are appropriate for repurposing to treat new diseases. The company has a significant set of leads in the pipeline already.
“NuMedii is blending various innovative technologies and life science data to create a next generation drug discovery and development engine,” says Gini Deshpande, Ph.D., founder and chief executive officer of NuMedii. “This unique partnership allows NuMedii access to an unparalleled source of knowledge from Thomson Reuters, enabling us to turbo-charge our search and discovery of new applications for existing therapies.”
Congratulations to Gini and Numedii for this breakthrough opportunity to accelerate the search for efficient and cost effective drug discovery.