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Startup applies big data to drug development

NuMedii, a new startup from the Stanford-affiliated incubator StartX, has taken a revolutionary approach to pharmaceutical research and development, using “big data” analysis techniques to leverage vast amounts of life science data in identifying drugs’ effectiveness and development potential.

According to Gini Deshpande, co-founder and CEO of NuMedii, the firm’s technology can be used to efficiently match afflictions and solutions at a fundamental level.

“What we are doing…is matching opposites at the molecular level,” Deshpande said. “If you have a disease and a drug that have reverse effects [on cells] or properties, you could match them at a molecular level.”

“Complex changes to the genome also can happen to tissues when certain chemicals or drugs reach those tissues,” she added. “The trick here is to match these sets of complex changes, so that we are picking drugs that computationally would appear to reverse the tissue effects seen from a disease.”

 

Old drugs, new approaches

Unlike other pharmaceutical companies, NuMedii has retained a broader focus than exclusively dealing with just one disease or set of diseases at a time.

“What we are trying to build is a discovery engine, where we are focused on several targets or pathways [at a time],” Deshpande said. “Not to minimize that effort [of the traditional pharmaceutical development process], but our approach takes a more holistic view and is much more complex than looking at a single drug target.”

NuMedii’s approach, which could also be used to identify new uses for existing and shelved pharmaceuticals, relies on technology developed by company co-founder and Professor of Pediatrics Atul Butte in his School of Medicine lab. Butte is Deshpande’s husband.

“The co-founder’s lab has been working with data for a while,” said Deshpande. “They had initially come up with using big data to reclassify human diseases.”

According to Deshpande, NuMedii’s concept evolved from the lab’s initial focus on diseases and their taxonomy.

“I was collaborating with [the Butte Lab],” she said. “In the process it became clear that if you could identify molecular correlations [between drugs and pathogens], there could be cures that are correlated.”

The firm’s approach has met with a positive reception from investors – NuMedii recently concluded a $3.5 million fundraising round – even as the product continues to develop.

“In five years, our predictive engine will be fully built up,” Deshpande said.“[With the money we have raised], we see the technology and company going on to do more innovative work…[and] understand complex disease biology at a depth we have not done so yet.”

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