Cyclica raises $23 million to accelerate drug discovery with AI

Cyclica, a biotechnology company leveraging AI to accelerate drug discovery, today announced that it raised $23 million. It will use the proceeds to advance its platforms and bolster its commercial plans, according to CEO Srinivas Rao, including growing a pipeline of pre-clinical and clinical assets and pursuing segments like agrochemicals.

Traditionally, the design of small molecule therapies —  therapies incorporating chemical probes that aren’t useful as drugs, but that inhibit or promote the function of specific proteins — has focused on disease-associated protein targets. But once a drug enters the body, it interacts with dozens, if not hundreds, of proteins before it is eliminated, and these interactions can impact safety or lead to repurposing opportunities. Moreover, despite how useful chemical probes are, only 4% of human proteins have a known chemical probe available.

Cyclica’s solution is a complementary set of structure-based and AI-powered drug discovery products: Ligand Design and Ligand Express. Together, they’re intended to help design molecules that minimize unwanted effects while providing an understanding of the molecules’ activity through integrated systems and pharmacogenomics (the study of the role of the genome in drug response).



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Ligand Design can design chemical entities across a panel of targets, driven by a “metaheuristic” genetic algorithm dubbed MatchMaker and an AI technology called POEM. The platform begins by fragmenting seed molecules and derivatizing them with libraries to explore accessible chemical spaces. It then selects among the hypothetical molecules for those with desirable properties to proceed to the synthesis step, after which it computes polypharmacological profiles and selects those with preferred profiles before initiating cycles until a portion of molecules with desirable properties remain.

Ligand Express is a cloud-based product that screens small-molecule drugs against repositories of structurally characterized proteins (proteomes) to determine optimal polypharmacological profiles. Using a drug-centric AI-powered system, Ligand Express identifies significant protein targets and determines the drug’s effect on these targets before visualizing the predicted drug-protein interactions. In this way, the platform provides a panoramic view of small molecules, identifying interactions to elucidate mechanisms and inform the prioritization of candidates.

With the support of the Ontario Centres of Excellence and IBM, Cyclica recently integrated a technology called structural pharmacogenomics (SPG) with Ligand Express. Tapping supercomputers, it maps a database of nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to protein structures, allowing researchers to identify genetic variants that might impact small molecule binding or are implicated in disease.



Cyclica’s commercial strategy is to create hundreds of drug discovery programs across therapeutic areas via spin-outs and joint ventures with research institutions, facilitated through an academic partnership program. Its portfolio already includes more than 30 active and advancing drug discovery programs with early-stage and emerging biotech companies, including EntheogeniX Biosciences, NineteenGale Therapeutics, Rosetta Therapeutics, and the Rare Diseases Medicine Accelerator, as well as a joint venture with Mannin Research.

Drive Capital led the financing round announced this week (a series B), with participation from Chiesi Farmaceutici, GreenSky Capital, and members of Cyclica’s management team. It brings the Toronto-based company’s total raised to around $30 million following a $2.25 million round in July 2017.

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