What do cloud computing, Bill Gates, and Schrodinger have in common? They are all contributing to the success of Nimbus, a biopharmaceutical company that leverages cloud computing (courtesy of Schrodinger, a computational drug-design company) to quickly discover medicines for difficult-to-tackle disease targets.
This month, Nimbus scored an undisclosed amount of funding from Bill Gates and Dr. Richard Friesner, Schrodinger's founder, in a seed round of funding. The cash will go toward expanding the Nimbus team--and more importantly, to accelerating the company's efforts on its first two drugs, which will address diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (a deadly white blood cell cancer) and obesity.
Why lymphoma and obesity? "There is a specific mutation in a lot of patients that turns on a protein and results in lymphoma cells replicating like crazy," explains Jonathan Montagu, Chief Business Officer at Nimbus. By targeting that mutation, Nimbus can treat lymphoma, and potentially speed up the creation of a number of other similar drugs. "This is one of these fundamental biological disease pathways that could be used in a whole load of things," explains Montagu.
The reasoning behind the obesity drug is obvious: it can help curb an epidemic, and make plenty of cash for Nimbus in the process. The company is going after a drug target that promotes the burning of existing fat and prevents the creation of new fat--essentially, a drug that mimics exercise.
"Biology has come forward in leaps and bounds in the past few decades, but chemistry is still trying to catch up. Doctors may know a lot about a disease, but they don't have the meds available. Nimbus wants to change that," says Montagu. The company's "secret sauce" is its computer-inspired drug discovery approach, which uses cloud computing to simulate what a drug target looks like. This allows the company to do research overnight that would take months at other biopharmaceutical companies.
Nimbus's ultra-fast drug discovery process is also helped along by the company's considerations of water's role in drug absorption--something that other companies ignore because of the massive amounts of computer processing power it takes to pay attention to it. "It's the difference between Google Maps and Google Earths," says Montagu. "Most drug companies have a two dimensional view, but we have an understanding of how water molecules in a protein target impact drug binding. This gives you more of a three dimensional representation of how a drug target works." That's because changes in a protein's water structure impact whether a drug can bind well to its target.
Nimbus estimates that its lymphoma drug will be ready for clinical testing in three to four months, while the obesity drug will be ready for testing in 36 months. The company started working on both of these drugs just six months ago. "We have a collection of about 20 targets involved in different diseases amenable to this kind of technology. At this point, we're not revealing what they are," says Rosanna Kapeller, Chief Scientific Officer at Nimbus. But, she says, "The amount of learning we have made every time we work on a different target is going faster and faster." In other words, Nimbus will probably have more drug discovery announcements to make in the near future.