Innophore is a start-up based in Styria working on “Drug and Enzyme Discovery”, that has already attracted attention beyond the European region in recent years. Now Innophore has offered its expertise to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which is including the start-up as a research partner in the fight against the current coronavirus.
“Events have snowballed rapidly in the last three days,” explains Christian Gruber, managing director of the 11-person start-up. “A few hours after the genome of the coronavirus 2019-nCoV was published, we took the initiative and searched for a key enzyme for this class of viruses, which we managed to find. Based on this, we used our technology to identify known substances that are approved for use against other viruses, which should theoretically be able to combat the coronavirus.” In research circles this is known as Drug Repurposing or Drug Repositioning – finding new pharmaceutical uses for drugs that have already been approved. “After we published these research findings, things took off very quickly, and I was contacted by an executive from a large pharma company in Beijing,” says Gruber.
Computer algorithms save valuable research time
Since then the team has been working with a group of selected bioinformatics experts from a leading pharmaceutical company in Beijing, and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, on proposals for possible medications to combat the virus. “Under normal circumstances this is done by extensive testing in chemical laboratories. That takes time – something we don’t have in the case of this virus. This is exactly where we can help: working with the Catalophore® platform we developed, we use computer algorithms to research new enzymes and active ingredients for drugs, and can do this much faster than is possible using traditional laboratory methods,” explains Gruber. In the next few weeks it will become clear whether or not the substance identified and recommended by Innophore is actually effective in combating the virus.
Innophore was founded by Christian Gruber, Georg Steinkeller and Karl Gruber in 2017, as a spin-off from the University of Graz and the Austrian Centre of Industrial Biotechnology (acib). The biotechnology start-up developed the Catalophore® platform – a search machine 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 strategic investment support from EOSS Industries, the company has built up an international client base which includes prominent major players such as Merck and Henkel.