In an age where nearly all available scientific data doubles every two years, it’s impossible for any scientist to read all data relevant to making new discoveries. This exponential growth of information is especially true in the biomedical field, explains Agustin Marquez, Vice President of Business Development and Marketing at nference and Qrativ. “This explosion of knowledge that takes place is an amazing thing, but it presents a pretty big challenge,” he says. However, new start-up Qrativ’s unique solution is to utilize artificial intelligence, or AI, to help sift through vast amounts of data.
Qrativ is the joint venture of the biotech company nference, which supplies AI bio-technology, and Mayo Clinic, which supplies clinical expertise, to give new purpose to pre-existing drugs. Marquez explains that drugs are commonly repurposed for uses for which they weren’t originally intended. However, in the past, this repurposing has either been an accident of one scientist or a small group of scientists realizing that a drug could be used for a different reason.
Marquez explains there is a negative connotation in the phrase ‘drug repurposing.’ “We have been conscious about calling the whole process drug purposing as opposed to repurposing,” he explains. “When you talk about drug repurposing, there has always been this perception that the cases have been in the market for many years. Most of them have patents that have already expired. At Qrativ, we strongly believe that that doesn’t have to be the case; you don’t have to wait for the drug to be in the market for many years for you to find all possible uses of the drug.” Qrativ aims to raise success rates of clinical trial drugs that make it to market with this new knowledge, which the Biotechnology Innovation Organization reports a 9.6% approval rate from 2005-2015.
The AI platform, aptly named darwin.ai, triangulates easily between the scientific literature concerning existing drugs and other large sources information, like genome sequencing, in order to predict the efficiency of a drug in a data driven manner. This “triangulation” between vast sources of information “is what nference brings to the table,” explains Marquez. “That’s what Mayo Clinic saw in [nference] that they didn’t see in others– the AI component of the Qrativ equation.
The liason between Mayo Clinic and Qrativ is the renowned Dr. Andrew Badley of Mayo Clinic. Badley is also Mayo Clinic’s Director of Office of Translation to Practice, Director of HIV Research Lab, and Director of Drug Discovery at Clinical and Translational Science. “It is fantastic to have someone like him with so many hats being the link between Qrativ and Mayo Clinic,” remarks Marquez. He describes how partnerships between different bio-tech companies (the most significant being the marriage between Mayo Clinic and nference) are one of the strengths of Qrativ. “These types of alliances will help up solve problems in the healthcare ecosystem.”
Marquez is optimistic about the future of drug purposing. “We can improve the rate of drug success in development by drug purposing in a systematic manner. I think that would dramatically improve the way pharma companies go about directing the right kind of clinical trials and having a greater success in themselves.”
Leah D’Sa is a Junior studying Writing, Literature, and Publishing at Emerson College. She is currently a copyeditor for the school newspaper the Berkeley Beacon as well as Poetry Editor for the literary magazine the Emerson Review. She is looking to begin her career with health technology writing as she seeks to combine her lifelong love of writing and science.
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