Where is the Ignite Theater tech leading us?


At this year’s SLAS event, DDW has curated a track taking place in the Ignite Theater. Sponsored by Integra Biosciences and Hamamatsu Corporation, it will explore technologies being used for drug discovery and how they get from lab to patient. Megan Thomas explains.

Dipanwita Das, CEO of Sorcero, is the first speaker in the track. She will present: ‘Is pharma’s commercial model dying?’ Sorcero’s uses medically-tuned AI to unify and enrich both unstructured and structured data across all sources to give teams a view of all relevant information. For the patient as well as for doctors, this means creating more time to make decisions, as the company believes: “Patients – and their quality of life – shouldn’t have to wait for a broken system to provide an answer six months too late. In healthcare, wasting time means wasting lives.”

Andrea Bortolato, Director of Drug Discovery at SandboxAQ, will present: ‘Combining physics-based methods with AI solutions to maximise the probability of success and speed of drug discovery and development’. SandboxAQ is combining AI with quantum technology to solve hard problems impacting society. The company’s technology includes crypto-agile security, quantum sensing, and quantum simulation and optimisation. In 2023, SandboxAQ announced a bio-pharma molecular simulation division, AQBioSim, to help biopharma and research institutions make treatment breakthroughs for patients. 

Simon Bushell, SVP of Molecular Discovery at Entact Bio, will present: ‘Proximity-inducing drugs: Using technological innovation to build the next generation of medicines’. Entact Bio is developing a platform to create enhancement-targeting chimeric (ENTAC) molecules, which bring together target proteins with enzymes called deubiquitinating enzymes (DUBs).

The potential impact of this technology on patients is multifaceted. While most drugs are designed to inhibit proteins that contribute to disease, ENTACs are designed to enhance the function of beneficial proteins that are lost in disease. They do this in several ways — by restoring their levels, changing their location within the cell, or changing their activity. This approach expands the druggable space, enabling new treatments for a broad range of diseases.

Masaru Kanekiyo, Chief of Molecular Immunoengineering Section (MIS) of the Vaccine Research Center (VRC) at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), will present ‘Structural vaccinology for influenza’. The MIS is developing novel vaccine concepts for broad and potent protective immune responses against influenza virus for patients, as well as to provide a mechanistic principle for designing vaccines for other hypervariable pathogens such as coronaviruses and HIV-12. This is done using a range of biochemical, biophysical, structural, immunological, and computational techniques and tools. These include ‘mosaic’ antigen display technology and high-throughput high-definition virus neutralisation assay systems, to animal models which recapitulate key aspects of human responses to influenza1. 

Isaac Bentwich, Founder and CEO of Quris-AI, will discuss: ‘How AI and patient-on-chip are improving drug discovery and development’. Quris-AI predicts drug safety using a platform which allows automated testing of drugs on miniaturised patients-on-a-chip, while nano-sensors monitor the responses from each miniaturised organ to these drugs.

According to an article in Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B, 90% of clinical drug development fails”3. Thus, processes which better predict drug candidate success is beneficial for drug developers and in turn, patients. These include examples such as investor confidence and lower costs for the developers, as well as quicker drugs to market and ultimately, better patient care. 

Anubhav Tripathi, Professor of Medical Science and Engineering at Brown University, is the final presentation of the DDW track. His presentation is: ‘Accelerating biotherapeutics development through technology platforms’. As part of the Tripathi Biomedical Engineering Group, his work uses science and technology to innovate, integrate, and design scalable bioengineering solutions for earlier diagnostics, faster workflows for new treatments and cures, and forge new pathways with the highest level of quality. 

SLAS 2024 Supplement, Volume 25 – Issue 1, Winter 2023/2024


  1. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41568-023-00633-y
  2. https://www.niaid.nih.gov/research/masaru-kanekiyo-dvm-phd 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9293739/

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