One Company’s Data-Driven Drug Discovery Aims For “Molecule To Medicine”

James Dargan

Leveraging AI

Having raised a total of $23.8 million in funding over seven rounds since its founding in 2013, Toronto-based biotechnology startup Cyclica — utilizing its unique computational approach to polypharmacology — has gone from strength to strength with its data-driven drug discovery solutions that are “advancing molecules that embrace the complexity of disease.”

Working tirelessly on many collaborations with major pharmaceutical and biotech (joint ventures included) concerns, Cyclica and its team of industry professionals, which include computer scientists, biologists and chemists, is realizing co-founders Jason Mitakidis and Naheed Kurji’s dream of leveraging the power of AI and computational biophysics to revolutionize the drug discovery process.

The startup’s platforms, Ligand Express® and Ligand Design™, are key here and employ a proteome-wide lens to evaluate multiple novel and rare on- and off-target interactions simultaneously powered by the deep learning-enabled MatchMaker™ and machine learning-enabled POEM™ ML engines, and are why Cyclica can boast achieving results from molecule to medicine with their “ability to get new medicines to patients in need depends less on a breakthrough in technology than it does a breakthrough in how we collaborate.”

And there’s the coda, the verb collaborate.

Another collaboration, the most important one, was how the two co-founders in fact started the company.

Cyclica

From small beginnings to where Cyclica is today with more than 70 employees and advisers at its headquarters in Toronto, US and UK-based teams, as well as consultants spread all over the world and strategic partnerships with biotech companies in South America, Asia, Australia, the US, Europe, and the UK, Cyclica’s AI-boosted data-driven decision can be a gamechanger in polypharmacology.

“At Cyclica, we are excited about two things: AlphaFold generated proteomes will be used as input to our proteome processing pipeline, expanding proteome screening to more non-human organisms and offering new opportunities in preclinical research, infectious disease, animal health and agriculture. The scale and impact that we will have as a result will be unparalleled in drug discovery as we are the only company that has a computationally driven proteome screening approach with MatchMaker. Drug discovery tools like MatchMaker that focus on local substructure rather than detailed atomistic positions suffer fewer trade-offs when expanding coverage through modeled protein structures. More far out, AlphaFold could close the sequence-structure gap in the effort to rapidly repurpose existing drugs to combat epidemic outbreaks. This could enable a rapid epidemic response to new pathogens that leads to drug candidates for field testing in the span of a week from the time a novel pathogen is first isolated.”

 — Naheed Kurji, CEO, Cyclica

Taking over from fellow co-founder Jason Mitakidis who resigned as CEO of the company in 2016 (though he is a Member of the Board of Directors), Naheed Kurji is President and CEO at Cyclica. A member of Global Affairs Canada’s Life Sciences Advisory Group, Kurji has previously worked and volunteered with the Aga Khan Development Network, not to mention other humanitarian organizational involvement.

At his core, Kurji is a behaviourist who is passionate about building AI-augmented technologies that enable researchers to make more strategic and informed decisions in the pursuit of discovering better medicines for patients in need. It is these patients that, at least partly, probably drove him to start Cyclica in the first place.

He received an MBA from the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, and a Certificate from MIT on Artificial Intelligence and the Implication on Business Strategy.

With Kurji at the helm orchestrating strategy to force change in the pharmaceutical industry, Cyclica — working closely with partners like Merck, AstraZeneca, Bayer, Atai Life Sciences, the University of Toronto, and others — can be at the forefront of all things good in the sector.

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