A new consultancy service that could help to mitigate attrition rates in drug development has been launched by UK-based systems biology company e-Therapeutics.

e-Therapeutics uses a proprietary computer-based platform to predict the biological effects of drug-cell or drug-drug interactions in the body. Moving beyond the traditional single-target approach to drug discovery, the company’s in silico (i.e., by means of computer simulation) technology can rapidly and more accurately identify efficacy and toxicity characteristics at a lower cost, e-Therapeutics claims.

The company, which has its headquarters in Newcastle upon Tyne, has built up its own pipeline of drug candidates by applying its systems biology tools to drug discovery, finding novel uses for existing compounds and analysing interactions between different drugs.

This pipeline includes novel antibiotics and anticancers as well as compounds targeting atherosclerosis, asthma and depression. e-Therapeutics has also collaborated on a number of projects involving companies such as GlaxoSmithKline, Mylan Laboratories and Cambridge Laboratories. It has now decided to offer these services on a more formal basis.

“Every drug compound binds in varying degrees to many different proteins,” e-Therapeutics notes. “The huge variety of possible protein targets, and the large variety of patterns of possible binding with proteins, create an enormous range of possible interactions between a drug molecule and any biological system.”

As a result, “the biological effects of a molecule’s interactions with pathogenic, pathological and normal cells have been very difficult to predict”. Focusing on single drug targets also hampers efforts to address multifactorial disease, the company adds.

Conventional approaches to isolating drug candidates with the right balance of high efficacy and low toxicity “have not proven accurate enough to produce safe and effective drugs, evidenced by the recognised industry problem of an unsustainable attrition rate”, comments Professor Malcolm Young, who is chief executive officer of e-Therapeutics as well as director of the Complex Systems Group and provost of the Faculty of Science, Agriculture and Engineering at Newcastle University.

“Our approach is cost-effective and will permit partners to de-risk investment decisions before they commit the substantial sums required to bring a new drug through clinical development,” he says.

The company is offering a range of evaluation services for candidate compounds, including determination of the mode of action; predicting efficacy; gauging appropriate positioning against rival drugs; identifying potential safety, toxicity and tolerance problems; and characterising possible drug-drug interactions.

These capabilities can not only help clients to make more informed judgments about the value of their drug candidates before committing to further investment but will also provide clarity and additional information to support patent applications, e-Therapeutics points out.

“Our consulting and contract research projects have up to now effectively sold themselves,” comments commercial and finance director John Cordiner. “We now have a substantial track record of delivering significant value to our partners in these projects, and so now is the time to make our capabilities more widely known to other discovery and development programmes, so that they can also benefit."

Formed as a spin-off from Newcastle University, e-Therapeutics floated on the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange in November 2007.