Over the past decade, systems biologists have mapped large networks of protein interactions related to various diseased states, providing many potential new drug targets for the pharmaceutical industry. These targets are dissimilar to traditional drug targets, generally lacking natural small molecule ligands and being physically flatter than the cavities used by many drugs; presenting a challenge to those trying to take advantage of this new fountain of knowledge. Assessing the “drugability” of a novel target can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take several years. To make this process more efficient, Boston University Biomedical Engineering Professor Sandor Vajda developed FTMap, a computational solvent mapping program that can rapidly assess the drugability of a protein.
Since systems biology has shown that many diseases can be treated at numerous levels in the protein interaction network, rapidly understanding the drugability of a large number of proteins can prioritize drug development or provide novel entry points for coexisting with products already on the market. For instance, high blood pressure has long been treated by ACE inhibitors, which block the production of angiotensin II from angiotensin I. Recently, Aliskiren came to market which works further upstream by inhibiting renin’s production of angiotensin I. With its separate target, Aliskiren can be used in conjunction with the well-established ACE inhibitors to better manage hypertension, providing the unique opportunity to not just compete with existing hypertension treatments, but to complement them in this large market. With FTMap, pharmaceutical companies can more efficiently discover such novel and effective drugs.
Boston University is in the process of licensing FTMap to Acpharis, a start-up founded by Prof. Vajda and led by his former graduate student David Hall. Acpharis previously licensed PIPER, also developed by Prof. Vajda’s lab, for the computational prediction of how two proteins interact. FTMap and PIPER give Acpharis state of the art methods for both understanding how two proteins interact and understanding the possibilities for blocking that interaction to treat a given disease. Prof. Vajda’s first BU spin-out, SolMap Pharmaceuticals, was acquired by Mercury Computer Systems in 2006.
Acpharis is selling products and services based on its novel technology to help make the pharmaceutical drug discovery process more efficient and less costly. For more information on Acpharis, please visit http://acpharis.com/.