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LONDON & BUDAPEST, Hungary—Five-year-old simulation-based drug discovery company Turbine is the recent beneficiary of a €3-million investment led by Delin Ventures. Turbine will use the seed funding to bolster their oncology drug discovery protocols by expanding their workflows across all phases of their research and development through the use of their proprietary human cell model and simulation platform, Simulated Cell.
“Turbine was founded on the premise that we can engineer biology once we have better tools to simulate its complexity,” says Szabolcs Nagy, Turbine’s CEO and co-founder. “The founding biologists and tech experts of the company started to build a dynamic model of the human cell and soon realized that by running millions of simulated experiments, they gain mechanistic understanding of how the cell works and responds to drugs. Looking at the staggering number of failed drug experiments in the clinical phase, Turbine is determined to change the trial-and-error R&D approach into an iterative process powered by simulation.”
Life-saving cancer drug discovery is notoriously challenging, requiring significant financial resources, as well as intensive time and creativity from pharmaceutical researchers. Despite staggering investment, an estimated 96.6 percent of such prospective drugs are not successful at the clinical trial phase, the company notes. This low success rate directly correlates with the complexity of cancer biology, and the challenge in identifying the specific reason that cancer responds to a given drug. Current lab methodologies provide only a limited understanding of how and why cancer cells respond to drugs. Turbine’s Simulated Cell was developed specifically to help better isolate successful drug mechanisms in order to assist the field at every point at which today’s drug discovery can fail.
“From the beginning, we built and validated our dynamic cell model and simulation technology through market collaborations with leading pharma companies,” says Nagy. “We succeeded in supporting their anticancer drug discovery programs by providing a deep, mechanistic understanding of how targets react to their drug candidates. By narrowing down true novelties, we essentially gave them a success rate boost in a traditionally failure-prone, lengthy and expensive process. These achievements made us want to go further and design a rational drug discovery process.”
This round of institutional financing is led by computational biology venture fund Delin Ventures, with added investment from health-tech veterans Esther Dyson, Vishal Gulati and Atlantic Labs. Additional contributors include o2h Ventures, which has launched the UK’s first seed and enterprise investment scheme fund backing early-stage biotech. The infusion will be used to expand the rational, simulation-based drug discovery workflow into every phase of drug discovery, from research to lifecycle management.
According to Nagy, “The most promising potential of a simulation-based drug discovery process is the survival of cancer patients. Our credo from the start is that we believe we are able to engineer oncology drugs that work once we understand the underlying biology better. This allows us to precisely match therapies with the right patients. To achieve this goal, we will grow from a computational tool into a drug discovery company which has the capacity to make rational decisions about the fate of a drug based on simulated experiments, and deliver better drugs to patients faster than is achievable today with lab methodologies.”
“We have been very impressed by Turbine’s capability to model and simulate complex biological problems first, and then decide on the fate of drugs based on a deep understanding of the problem,” notes Alan Barge, former vice president and head of the Oncology Therapy Area at AstraZeneca, a partner at Delin Ventures and a non-executive director at Turbine. “This resourcefulness is deeply rooted in the DNA of the team. They have come a long way in developing and validating the platform leaning on revenue from industry collaborations, while also arriving at promising in-vitro validation of their simulation-first DDR [DNA damage response] drug discovery program within just a couple of months. We look forward to supporting this talented team during the next stage of its development.”
Turbine’s recent achievements have them confident they can transform themselves into a simulation-first drug discovery company which will invest in its own pipeline. The way forward for Turbine, its leaders say, is to model toxicity to allow for more rational decision points in drug discovery. In the future, Turbine will focus heavily on DNA damage repair as they further develop their cell model to effectively simulate DDR pathways through modeling the interaction of immune and cancer cells.