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of the microbes hidden in them. Ideally, says Borisy, the platform will be able to use that information to help scientists uncover new molecules that have the highest probability of hitting disease targets.
Nature has been one of the drug industry’s richest sources of pharmaceutical success stories. The menu of products that originated in the wild include diabetes drug exenatide (Byetta), derived from Gila monster saliva; heart failure treatment digoxin, which comes from the foxglove plant; and ziconotide (Prialt), a pain treatment from the cone snail. “Nature is an incredibly medicinal chemist,” Borisy says. “Nature can drug targets in ways we’ve never been able to figure out how to do.”
Problem is, natural products can be extraordinarily difficult to translate into drugs. They often have to be tweaked to achieve the right potency, and sometimes they don’t behave in the lab as they do in the wild, making it all the more difficult to figure out how to transform them into useful therapies. “This has traditionally taken years of smelly, hard work in the lab,” Borisy says. “We want to be able to do this in a more efficient way.”
Borisy estimates that half of big pharmaceutical firms have gotten out of the business of searching for drug leads from natural products altogether, and the other half aren’t pouring enough resources into the area to yield significant leads. “The industry has probably only studied about 1 percent of what nature has to offer,” he says.
Warp Drive isn’t revealing much yet about how its platform works. Borisy says the startup is still a long way from completing the technology and proving it can do what they have planned for it. But he’s optimistic that if it all plans out, Warp Drive may be at the forefront of a renaissance in natural products. “We envision a complete re-imagining of this area,” he says.
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