NuMedii Sifts Data to Teach Old Drugs New Tricks

10/18/12Follow @tanseyverse

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a certain drug might help block the damaging gene activity associated with a particular disease.

The company can draw on more than one million sets of gene expression data stored in publicly available databases, and 20 percent of that trove was added in the past year, Deshpande says.

NuMedii’s database integrates many other types of data aside from gene expression study results, says Deshpande. But genomic analysis provides an in-depth look at how a drug affects the entire network of molecular interactions in the body, not just one target element of a disease.

“It’s a great starting point,’’ Deshpande says. Other data, such as clinical trial results, add to NuMedii’s systems-level portrait of a drug and its effects. A compound known to hit one disease target may be found to affect six or seven other molecular structures. This could lead to a new drug use, but it could also alert researchers to an undesirable side effect, Deshpande says. That could help pharmaceutical companies avoid expensive failures.

Gini Deshpande, CEO of NuMedii

NuMedii is continually annotating and adding new studies from the public domain into its database, hosted at Amazon’s cloud computing service; it’s all an example of “big data” at work in pharmaceutical research. But much of the existing data on marketed drugs and experimental compounds is held in the private domains of pharmaceutical companies, Deshpande says.

Butte, who is Deshpande’s husband, has worked with the Seattle non-profit organization Sage Bionetworks to promote wider data-sharing that could boost the analytical power of disease research and drug repurposing studies.

In the meantime, NuMedii is eager to form partnerships with pharmaceutical companies to study the potential therapeutic value of their in-house drugs and experimental treatments, as well as compounds found elsewhere.

“We’re in discussions with several of them,’’ Deshpande says.

NuMedii, whose work has been supported so far by grant money and funds from collaborations, is now raising its initial round of financing, Deshpande says. The staff of four includes executives in charge of technology, assets, and corporate development.

The company is positioning itself as a drug discovery partner with pharmaceutical firms, not a technology services provider. Its product is “de-risked’’ drug candidates predicted to succeed, Deshpande says.

NuMedii’s drug vetting procedure includes an evaluation of commercial factors such as patent rights. Generic drugs with expired patents are still potentially profitable products, if their use in a new disease requires modifications such as tweaking the chemical structure or the delivery method, Deshpande says.

The Mountain View company will remain a small, early-stage discovery and early clinical development unit that partners with larger businesses that already have clinical development and marketing capabilities. But its revenue potential is limited only by the returns possible for any drug developer that turns out effective new remedies, Deshpande says.

“You really could find either the next big blockbuster, or even the next therapy for an orphan disease, using this approach,’’ she says.

Bernadette Tansey is a freelance journalist based in Berkeley, CA. Follow @tanseyverse

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