With “Drug and Enzyme Discovery” the Styrian start-up Innophore has already gained attention outside the European borders in recent years. Innophore has now also made its knowledge available to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has since involved the young company as a research partner in the fight against coronavirus.
Events have literally been unfolding over the past three days, according to Dr. Christian Gruber, CEO of the 11-member startup. On our own initiative, we searched for one of the key enzymes of this class of viruses in the genome of coronavirus 2019-nCoV published a few hours earlier and found it. Based on this, we used our technology to identify known agents and agents approved for other viruses that could theoretically target coronavirus. In research circles, this is called ‘drug repurposing’ or ‘drug repositioning’ – finding already approved drugs for new pharmaceutical uses. After we published these research results, they took on a life of their own within a very short period of time and I was contacted by an executive of a large pharmaceutical company in Beijing.
Computer-based algorithms save valuable research time
Since then, the team has been working with a group of selected bioinformaticians from a leading pharmaceutical company in Beijing and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention to propose potential drugs against the virus. Normally, this is done with elaborate tests in chemical laboratories. These need time, which we do not have in the case of the virus. This is precisely where our major advantage lies: we work with the Catalaphore® platform we developed, which uses computer-based algorithms to research new enzymes and active ingredients for drugs, and does so faster than in conventional laboratories, explains Gruber. Whether the active ingredient identified and recommended by Innophore actually achieves the desired effect against the virus will become clear in the coming weeks.
Innophore was founded in 2017 as a spin-off of Karl-Franzens-University and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnoloy (acib) by Dr. Christian Gruber, Dr. Georg Steinkeller and university professor Dr. Karl Gruber. The biotechnology startup developed the Catalaphore® platform, a search engine that uses artificial intelligence and Big Data to find enzymes and active ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry and industrial processes quickly and cost-effectively. With EOSS Industries as a strategic investor, the company built up an international customer base that includes renowned big players such as Merck and Henkel.