Daniel Jamieson is the CEO and Founder of Biorelate, a biomedical curation company that aims to accelerate insight and innovation in drug discovery. Lu Rahman spoke to him about his vision for the business, how COVID-19 has affected the landscape and the technology behind his drug discovery success.
Biorelate was founded in 2014 from scientific research into how biomedical curation can use existing knowledge to accelerate future drug discovery. The thinking behind the company was that a better understanding of today’s science can bring forward the next generation of life-saving therapeutics being developed by world-leading researchers. As the progress of scientific researchers continues to compound the huge volume of growing and evolving biomedical data, Biorelate’s mission has never been so important. Through its platform, Galactic AI, it uses artificial intelligence-led curation to provide and enable the insights that matter to scientists and organisations developing the innovations of the future.
“I founded Biorelate in 2014 during a PhD in computational biology,” says Jamieson. “Through a placement at Pfizer, I used some immature technology that I had been developing to help uncover potential repurposing opportunities for chronic pain – nasty diseases that affect >10% of people in Europe alone. It turned out to be quite successful, doubling Pfizer’s hit rate in that space. In that experience, what I saw was a giant pharmaceutical company struggling to make sense of all of the available data and how it could be connected together to reveal hidden meaning.”
This was the start of Biorelate with, what Jamieson describes as “a mission to curate knowledge to advance the world’s most promising therapeutics.”
That is still the company’s mission today and its team very much believes in the power of using biomedical data to its fullest potential for developing lifesaving innovations. It’s a laudable plan. Drug discovery and development have never been more important. As researchers race to find therapeutics and vaccines, the world is looking to this sector for answers. But how has COVID-19 has changed the landscape for drug discovery?
“The collective sense of urgency to find a treatment for COVID-19 has essentially turned the entire biopharma clinical trials landscape into one giant and very well-funded ‘hackathon’. This wartime mentality has helped us question every possible barrier to developing a treatment from scratch and will leave a legacy that could accelerate the development of many other treatments. The normal timeline to develop a vaccine can be up to 10 years – scientists are really pushing all boundaries by targeting 12 months to have developed a vaccine,” Jamieson says.
While this may be the case, Jamieson also notes that the shift in focus has come at a cost to all the other therapeutic areas, many of which have equal, if not greater, unmet medical needs. “With labs closed, funding shifted, and clinical trials delayed, drug discovery is going to be playing catch-up for quite some time. Let’s hope that what we have learnt from COVID-19 trials can be applied!” he adds.
So has it also affected drug repurposing – is there more opportunity in the market as we seek cures? “I think drug repurposing is an area where much of the data is probably there already and has been for quite some time. Once researchers have found the data, the challenge is how to push their drug through to trials and eventually to market, because there are a lot of obstacles along the way, like patent life and ownership.
“What we have seen with COVID-19 is that there has been a lot more publicity around the data for potential repurposed drugs. Whilst this is positive and it fits with the urgency of the situation, personally, I’m not sure that will change the impetus for using repurposed drugs as potential cures in other unmet needs,” says Jamieson.
Biorelate’s current main focus is Galactic AI, a supercomputing platform that automatically curates biomedical research to dramatically improve the understanding of a research area in drug discovery.
“Biopharma companies are using our platform to get a better understanding of targets, indications, biomarkers and more. The type of data we capture is typically curated manually elsewhere, so Galactic AI is generally far more comprehensive and up to date than other sources. We are essentially trying to empower biopharma companies with the type of potential edge that was achieved with Pfizer, at scale,” he reveals.
The Galactic Web App is a browser-ready interface to a platform that lets users explore a lot of the data captured through Galactic AI.
“They can navigate our tailored portals to find research, experts, organisations and hidden insights – such as causal interactions – and make hypotheses and predictions while saving significant time and resources. The tool also offers more technical functionality for large enterprises who want to input their own textual content and ontologies they’ve designed in house,” says Jamieson.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began affecting the industry, the company decided to open up Galactic for free registration to mainly help those researchers who had lost access to their normal lab based activities and needed to keep their projects in motion through researching more in silico.
“We have seen a lot of success in doing this so far and we plan to maintain this initiative going forward,” says Jamieson.
The Biorelate story is impressive. At a time when the sector needs to move swiftly and effectively, it is poised to help make this happen. No doubt we will hear more from this Manchester University spinout and its role in drug development in the near future.
Volume 21, Issue 4 – Fall 2020