Research collaboration between U-M and Atomwise to accelerate drug discovery using innovative Artificial Intelligence approach
From making pain management safer and more effective to identifying inhibitors for a fibrosis target protein and more, researchers from Michigan Medicine, as well as the University of Michigan College of Pharmacy and U-M Life Sciences Institute, are looking to advance their projects through Atomwise’s Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) Awards program, which uses AI-powered screening technology employed by large pharmaceutical companies.
Michigan Medicine researchers Alan Smrcka, Ph.D., U-M Department of Pharmacology and Daniel Lawrence, Ph.D., Department of Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Medicine, are two of the four researchers working with Atomwise and Fast Forward Medical Innovation (FFMI), a unit within the U-M Medical School Office of Research, to accelerate their drug discovery programs.
“FFMI’s mission is to accelerate and support the transfer of technologies from academia to the private sector for commercialization, so partnerships with companies like Atomwise, which can help speed up the early stages of the drug discovery process, are very exciting to our program and the researchers we serve,” said Steve Kunkel, Ph.D., Interim Executive Vice Dean for Research, U-M Medical School, and Interim Chief Scientific Officer, Michigan Medicine.
With an estimated 130 people dying every day from opioid-related drug overdoses, the U-M Therapeutic Innovation Fund, co-managed by FFMI and Michigan Center for Therapeutic Innovation, has been helping Smrcka accelerate his pain management research efforts through funding and mentorship. He has identified a target protein that could potentially end the opioid crisis if he can find a drug to alter pain response.
“With strong recommendations from the U-M Therapeutic Innovation Fund team, I applied for an AIMS Award, which is helping us screen a massive and diverse chemical space that would otherwise be hard to obtain for researchers like me,” said Smrcka.
Millions of people suffer from fibrotic disease, which occurs when the body’s production of scar tissue is uncontrolled, leading to excessive tissue deposits that can result in organ failure. Lawrence has developed a drug to inhibit the growth of a fibrotic matrix and significantly improve treatment options in a number of clinically important settings, including fibrotic diseases of the lung, kidney, and heart. He is specifically targeting the Plasminogen Activator Inhibitor-1 (PAI-1), a protein that acts as the principal inhibitor of proteins involved in the breakdown of blood clots and in the resolution of the fibrotic matrix. Atomwise will be doing a virtual screen of 10 million commercially available small molecule compounds using special AI technology to help Lawrence further his drug discovery efforts around PAI-1.
“We’re pleased to have been selected to receive an AIMS Award,” said Lawrence, a U-M Medical School Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine, and Founder and Scientific Advisory Board Chairman of MDI Therapeutics, Inc. “We’re excited by the potential for Atomwise’s AI virtual screen to enhance our existing structure-based drug discovery effort, which is focused on the discovery of small molecule inhibitors for a difficult-to-target protein that plays a critical regulatory role in the development of fibrosis.”
Atomwise’s AIMS Awards program is helping to accelerate drug discovery efforts and fostering translational research in academia. The program supports these efforts by providing access to industry-leading AI technology, which allows researchers to test more compounds efficiently and to increase the odds of success.
“I’m excited to be collaborating with researchers at U-M,” said Matthew Young, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at Atomwise and a U-M alumnus and former professor at the U-M Department of Pharmacology. “AIMS Awards are designed for faculty across all areas of biology, providing cutting-edge AI-screening technology and expertise that many could benefit from. I look forward to collaborating with U-M researchers to make progress on challenging diseases.”