Digital drug discovery will cut costs, timelines

Founder says we\'re more than just supercomputing, our unique technology streamlines drug development

Hyderabad: Ceremorphic, a semiconductor startup from Hyderabad, announced a new division Ceremorphic Life Sciences. This will combine the power of supercomputing and artificial intelligence to work on digital drug discovery
The focus will be on cutting the timeframe as well as costs required for drug discovery.

Dr Venkat Mattela, founder and chief executive officer, Ceremorphic, discusses how AI will influence drug discovery in days to come in an interview with B Krishna Mohan


Journey: We developed a product to create an efficient drug development process using our supercomputing chips, as well as our algorithms and technology in that space. We are not just a supercomputing chip company but also have a unique technology to develop drugs in a cost-effective and fast manner.

Need: There is a substantial gap in the number of diseases and the drugs available. One new drug today typically requires over 10 years to develop, which can easily cost a pharma company more than $2 billion to bring to market. We have seen coordinated efforts to create a drug or vaccine within 11 to 12 months for Covid. However, if you delve into the history, traditionally, it takes more than 10 years to develop a new drug. Our digital platform can come handy to cut down the time as well as costs.

Elaborate process: The discovery methodology has various steps, such as target discovery and target validation. Then we test the drug on animals. After that, we test the drug on a small group of human subjects and then on a larger group of human subjects. Finally, we submit reports to the FDA for approval. The cycle time for this process exceeds 10 years today. The challenge is that once you initiate clinical trials with a drug, if it fails, then you have to go back to the drawing board to redesign and repeat the process. Significant manual work is involved.

Approach: Using computing, an electrical circuit can be used to simulate a cell. When you combine these simulated cells, they form a more complex organ. Instead of going through all the various steps and testing on humans, imagine we create an early approximate model of a human cell. If it doesn't pass in this initial model, there is no need to proceed further. Manufacturing of any drug, vaccine, or molecule we may develop, will be entrusted to partners.

Hyderabad centre: When we launched the company in January 2021, the market was booming, with many people interested. However, there was a significant slowdown afterward. We're currently at 160, and we are proceeding cautiously. We continue the same activities, but the timelines get delayed. For instance, the product release planned for May 2024 in supercomputing has been pushed to the second quarter of 2025.

Chip status: We have created a test chip. The production of chips cost about $21 million while the test chips range from $1 to $2 million each. Each test chip is crucial for validation. If something goes wrong at the $21 million production stage, there's no salvageable value, which is why we conduct test chips.

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