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Computational Drug Discovery Company Launches

Computational biology illustration

(Lawrence Livermore National Lab)

14 September 2016. A new enterprise, Relay Therapeutics, is being formed for computer-driven discovery of new drugs based on the movements and interactions of protein molecules. The company, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is raising $57 million in its first funding round, led by life sciences investment firm Third Rock Ventures.

Relay Therapeutics plans to combine research from a number of disciplines to find new treatments addressing targets previously considered difficult to reach, beginning with cancer. The company’s technology is built on research into protein movement and dynamics, a different investigation of proteins from conventional work that the company says views proteins largely as static entities.

Relay’s drug discovery work is expected to combine inquiries into the structure of protein molecules, with chemistry, biophysics, and computational techniques. The company aims to apply these disciplines to design molecules that influence the behavior of proteins, and find changes in disease-causing proteins as they bind to and interact with these designed molecules. This kind of drug discovery requires a large number of complex and iterative simulations, which will need supercomputer-scale processing.

The company’s founders include researchers from the academic and business worlds:

Matthew Jacobson, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at University of California, San Francisco, who studies computer-aided drug design, particularly in predicting actions of enzymes and regulating energy functions in proteins.

Dorothee Kern, biochemistry professor at Brandeis University, who investigates dynamic processes of biological molecules using advanced spectroscopy techniques to uncover and visualize the catalytic power of enzymes.

Mark Murcko, a lecturer in biological engineering at MIT, and founder or advisor to several biotechnology companies; Murcko is serving as Relay’s chief scientist.

David Shaw, research fellow in computational biology and bioinformatics at Columbia University, and chief scientist at David E. Shaw Research in New York.

As reported in Science & Enterprise, Jacobson is also founder of the biotechnology company Global Blood Therapeutics developing treatments for blood-related disorders that went public last year, raising $120 million.

Relay’s first venture financing round is raising $57 million, led by life sciences and health care investment company Third Rock Ventures in Boston. David E. Shaw Research is also an investor in the company. Third Rock Ventures partner Alexis Borisy is serving as Relay’s interim CEO.

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