Cyclica offers Pharma a novel cloud platform to increase R&D productivity

 Naheed Kurji, President and CEO

Naheed Kurji, President and CEO

During the past four years, closely-held Cyclica has developed and validated a patented structure-based and AI-augmented proteome-screening platform, known as Ligand Express. 

“The platform enables critical insights into the polypharmacology of small molecules, which is useful in identifying novel targets, target deconvolution, lead prioritization, and drug repurposing,” president and CEO, Naheed Kurji, says in an interview with BioTuesdays.

“We believe that AI will undeniably play a future in the role of Pharma R&D, but that it is one piece of a much bigger puzzle,” he adds.

At our core, we are a biophysically-oriented company that leverages AI to augment our biophysical simulations to conduct small-molecule proteome screening for drug discovery, all at the fingertips of the end user who are medicinal chemists, biochemists, and screening scientists.
— Naheed Kurji

With the Ligand Express platform, Mr. Kurji says scientists can filter and sort data, and visualize and interact with protein-ligand structures in real-time to gain a panoramic view of their small molecules.

“We have built an enabling platform that when used by bench scientists enhances their R&D productivity by helping them take more steps in the right direction, and fewer steps in the wrong direction,” he adds.

The team at Cyclica, which was founded in 2014, consists mainly of biophysicists and computational physicists.

According to Mr. Kurji, the pharmaceutical sector is facing a productivity issue. Cyclica, together with its partners, has the opportunity to reduce the risk of pharmaceutical R&D to get life-saving drugs to the market faster and cheaper, he contends.

He also suggests that the problem with conventional drug discovery is that the focus is on how a given drug candidate interacts with one biological target. “It’s like one lock and millions of keys, and trying to find the key that opens the lock.”

 Drug Development Pain Points

Drug Development Pain Points

In reality, he says a given drug candidate can interact with up to 300 biological targets, many of which are considered off-target interactions, so the key can open more than one lock. “Understanding these off-target interactions is important in understanding potential downstream side-effects, which is why many drugs fail,” he adds.

Mr. Kurji points out that the scientific value proposition of Ligand Express is that it enables the discovery of proteome-wide drug polypharmacology, or off-target effects, for any disease, providing critical insights for R&D.

“By identifying off-target effects through an in silico [computational] approach, Ligand Express can save significant R&D time and cost, which can then be allocated to other drug development initiatives.”

 Ligand Express™ Workflow in Action

Ligand Express™ Workflow in Action

Cyclica operates in the pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and personal/beauty care markets, with the latter two largely untapped by in silico to date, he adds.

Looking forward, he says Ligand Express is not just a technology platform that is used to solve a few important R&D problems, “Instead it is a cloud-based infrastructure that enables us to innovate and integrate novel solutions to create and capture significant value.”

 Cyclica's Vision to Redefine Drug Discovery

Cyclica's Vision to Redefine Drug Discovery

Cyclica’s vision is to offer an integral-enabling platform to transform pharma R&D. “We will achieve this by deploying an integrated network of technologies that design, screen and stratify/personalize drug discovery and development.”

To this end, Mr. Kurji explains that Cyclica has expanded the “functionality of Ligand Express downstream to investigate the effect that sequence variants and mutations have on protein structure, thereby providing insight into structural pharmacogenomics.”

Cyclica also has launched an alpha version of its second-generation differential drug design (DDD) technology to select Pharma partners. “DDD extends our value to the market upstream into multi-targeted drug design.”

Mr. Kurji says the company has adopted a multi-pronged business model, which includes fee-for-service for small pharma companies and licensing and partnership arrangements with larger pharma companies. For smaller, venture-backed pharma companies, Cyclica has taken equity positions and structured other creative deals.

For example, Cyclica recently partnered with an oncology company, Tieös Pharmaceuticals, as well as with ophthalmology company, Translatum Medicus, to advance a small molecule discovery for dry age-related macular degeneration.

“We are driving towards our vision by bridging technology, chemistry and biology to more efficiently discover novel medicines to treat human diseases,” he adds.

FeatureLeonard Zehr