Google, pharmaceutical giants pursue smarter antibody drug discovery

Google is spending millions of dollars on computing infrastructure in pursuit of a new computer model that will efficiently discover targeted antibody drugs.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Google is spending "millions of dollars" on computing infrastructure in pursuit of a new computer model that pharmaceutical giants hope will efficiently discover targeted antibody drugs, according to a new report.

The investment is in Lebanon, N.H.-based Adimab, a discovery startup that makes targeted antibody drugs that target diseased cells and spare healthy ones.

The market is worth some $25 billion in annual sales.

In an interview with Xconomy, Adimab founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross says Google first investigated investing in his Lebanon, N.H.-based biotech startup in October, when its corporate venture arm led a financing rush that included Polaris Venture Partners, SV Life Sciences, OrbiMed Advisors and Borealis Ventures.

Antibody discovery is a risky, time-consuming business. Adimab differentiates itself with its rapid, yeast-based model, which can synthesize hundreds of antibodies in eight weeks of work, compared to six to 18 months of labor using traditional methods.

That process has allowed Adimab to make lucrative deals with major pharmaceutical companies such as Merck, Roche and Pfizer to produce antibody drug candidates. From those, the drug companies spend years and millions of dollars testing them in animals and humans for efficacy.

But that's not why Google is interested. The Mountain View-based giant seeks to build a computing model that can take three-dimensional information on the protein structure of the target, run simulations on where an antibody could bind to it and finally determine whether it can produce the intended biological reaction.

All that crunching requires tremendous computing infrastructure.

But the Dartmouth engineering professor says Google's muscle could make it possible to identify an optimal antibody for clinical trials using simulations alone ("in silico"), saving significant amounts of time, effort and money to develop drugs.

That's not to say the simulations cut out certain elements of the pipeline, such as having a specific target in mind or Adimab's eight-week synthesis of the antibodies. But the development gives drug companies (and Adimob) an edge over their competition.

In Gerngross, they're hoping for repeat success: he sold GlycoFi, a company that makes faster, cheaper antibodies in yeast, to Merck for $400 million in 2006.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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