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DNDi, Atomwise Collaborate to Advance Drug Development Using AI for Neglected Diseases

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Thursday, April 18, 2019

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Atomwise, a biotech company using artificial intelligence (AI) for drug discovery, and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), a not-for-profit research and development organization working to deliver new treatments for neglected diseases, announced that promising drug-like compounds have been discovered in a program to develop first-in-class treatments for Chagas disease.

The research collaboration is part of Atomwise’s Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) Awards program.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 6-7 million people in the world have Chagas disease. Approximately 30% of those with Chagas disease develop life-threatening cardiac, digestive, or neurological disorders.

DNDi scientists selected three verified but challenging therapeutic protein targets that would inhibit the action of the parasite that causes Chagas disease. For each disease protein, Atomwise screened millions of compounds using its AI-powered screening technology to predict those that bind and potentially inhibit protein function.

This research has delivered drug-like compounds that will now go on to further optimization and then potential drug development.

Through the AIMS program, which supports hundreds of researchers at non-profit institutions and universities worldwide, Atomwise provided compounds at no cost to be tested by DNDi researchers.

“Our partnership with Atomwise has allowed us access to state-of-the-art technology that is more efficient and cost-effective than standard methods,” said Benjamin Perry, Ph.D., Senior Discovery Manager and Research Scientist at DNDi.

“Ultimately, the next step for this partnership will be to further develop the compounds in active discovery projects and help fill the pipeline of potential treatments for patients with Chagas disease. This win-win collaboration is showing the potential of new technology for neglected disease drug discovery.”

Current treatments for Chagas disease are suboptimal, with long treatment periods and uncertain efficacy for those in the advanced stage of the disease. Together, DNDi and Atomwise are driving drug discovery research in new directions to address a public health challenge that affects many corners of the world.

“DNDi’s early success in Chagas disease is exemplary of the goal we sought to accomplish when we established the AIMS program to accelerate life-saving drug discovery,” said Dr. Abraham Heifets, CEO at Atomwise. “Our scientists are working creatively with DNDi researchers to apply our technology to targets that some might consider undruggable or too early for rational drug design due to insufficient data. While these targets present the greatest challenge, they also provide the greatest opportunity for transformative treatments for Chagas disease. The research conducted through this collaboration could offer a path to novel medicines.”

Chagas disease is a neglected tropical disease (NTD) estimated to affect approximately 6 million people worldwide, with 30,000 new cases and 14,000 deaths per year. It is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T. cruzi) and transmitted by insects known as ‘kissing bugs.’ It can also be transmitted from an infected mother to a child, or through blood transfusion or food contaminated with the vector.

Since it was first discovered in 1909, Chagas has primarily affected poor, vulnerable populations with limited access to healthcare. As the disease typically remains asymptomatic for years after infection, most people with the disease are unaware of their condition.

For 30-40% of people infected, the disease progresses to a late chronic stage. Of these, most will suffer cardiac damage, often leading to sudden death or progressive heart failure. The disease can also cause enlargement of the gastrointestinal tract and organs and gastrointestinal motor disorders.

Source: Pharmacuetical Business Review
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