Local artificial intelligence (AI)-based startups are actively working with pharmaceutical companies to discover new therapeutic effects of existing drugs or speed up treatment discovery.
AI drug discovery startups use different strategies, with the AI new drug development market becoming larger and diversely segmented.
Major Korean AI-based drug discovery companies such as Oncocross, Standigm, and Syntekabio have built partnerships with domestic pharmaceutical firms for drug repositioning.
Drug repurposing refers to finding new therapeutic effects of existing medicines. Using machine learning, drug companies can investigate new possibilities by analyzing large-scale clinical data faster and efficiently.
On March 22, Oncocross signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Daewoong Pharmaceutical to expand the indications of new drug candidates Enavogliflozin and DWN12088 using Oncocross’s AI platform, “RAPTOR AI.”
Daewoong aims to expand the indications of Enavogliflozin, originally targeting diabetes, to metabolic, heart, and kidney disease. The company also explores DWN12088’s potential as an anticancer drug while developing it as a polygenic risk score (PRS) treatment for intractable fibrosis in the lung, kidney, and skin.
Oncocross has raised a total of 25.5 billion won ($22.6 million) through Series A and B funding in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Under the latest MOU with Oncocross, Daewoong also plans to make a strategic investment in Oncocross.
Standigm, in joint research with SK Chemicals, said in January that the two companies found a new rheumatoid arthritis indication from an existing medicine through drug repurposing. SK Chemicals filed a patent of the candidate’s substance and said it already secured its safety because it is an approved medicine.
In July 2019, Standigm signed an agreement with SK Chemicals for joint research to develop therapies to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver and rheumatoid arthritis.
Standigm is also working on an anticancer drug candidate targeting T cells with Hanmi Pharmaceutical.
Syntekabio, a Kosdaq-listed firm, is focusing on drug repositioning to develop a Covid-19 treatment.
In February 2020, Syntekabio found the possibility of Covid-19 treatment in leukotriene receptor blocker Zafirlukast and platelet aggregation inhibitor Sulfinpyrazone, using its AI solution, “Deep-matcher.”
Syntekabio plans to develop a Covid-19 drug STB-R011 by using the two drugs in combination. The company said it has selected a contract research organization (CRO) to prepare clinical trials overseas.
In January, Syntekabio signed an agreement with Hanmi Science to conduct joint research for drug repositioning and expansion of indications. Syntekabio will evaluate the validity of the effective combination of the drug proposed by Hanmi Science and the target. The two will run the first study to fight Covid-19, Syntekabio said.
An AI-based company and a precision medicine developer recently launched a project to accelerate drug development, combining deep learning with precision medicine.
In February, AZothBio and Geninus inked a joint research deal to start the GENIAZOS project. The two companies plan to discover low-molecular compounds to develop autoimmune disease treatments with high unmet medical needs.
A developer of innovative treatment modalities and an AI-based new drug developer have also built a partnership.
In February, Deargen signed a joint research agreement with Uppthera to develop a proteolysis-targeting chimera (PROTAC).
PROTAC is a new drug development technology that decomposes disease-causing protein of interest (POI) by using the ubiquitin-proteasome system in the body.
Under the agreement, Deargen will predict target binders and optimize new drug candidates, and Uppthera will take charge of the compound synthesis and clinical trials.
A pharmaceutical industry official said that local drugmakers are looking for ways to raise research efficiency and save money and time in new drug development.
“As multinational pharmaceutical firms like BMS or AstraZeneca are aggressively using AI to develop new medicines, Korean companies will follow suit,” the official said.
Local AI-based companies are accumulating experience and knowhow to eye on a partnership with multinational drugmakers, he went on to say.
For the government, one of the ways to help accelerate new AI drug development will be to support AI-based new drug developers, who are mostly non-listed, to participate in a biotech conference in the U.S. or Europe and let them interact with international companies, he added.