Edmonton startup wants to put Alberta at epicentre of molecular discoveries

A University of Alberta biotechnology spinoff wants to put Edmonton at the epicentre of molecular discoveries by creating an immense searchable database that could speed up and drive down the cost of research and development.

This article originally appeared in the Edmonton Journal on August 16th, 2017: http://edmontonjournal.com/technology/science/edmonton-startup-wants-to-put-alberta-at-epicentre-of-molecular-discoveries

By Juris Graney, Edmonton Journal

Ratmir Derda
Biochemist and 48-Hour Discovery founder Ratmir Derda hopes the Edmonton-based company will become “the next molecular Google.” SUPPLIED / POSTMEDIA

Currently, large pharmaceutical and biotech companies can pay anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million to discover a single viable pre-clinical molecule of interest, said biochemist Ratmir Derda.

Not only is it expensive to discover the next acetaminophen or ibuprofen, or to uncover a molecule that could develop new diagnostics for diseases like cancer or tuberculosis, the identification process can also take anywhere up to six months to complete.

(As a science refresher, a molecule is formed when two or more atoms join together chemically.)

 But as the name suggests, Derda’s Edmonton-based startup company, 48-Hour Discovery, will do the same process in just two days for as little as one-tenth of the cost, he said.

That’s hugely important for smaller companies, researchers and academia who will gain access to the traditionally cost-prohibitive process of molecular discovery.

“Committing $500,000 up front to enter any field is not plausible,” Derda said.

“But if you can reduce the cost, then you give more people the power to build something that will impact the world.“

At the core of Derda’s company, which he hopes will become “the next molecular Google,” is the idea of using a client’s discovery to build on its vast one-billion-molecule database.

Traditional molecular discovery companies tend to operate without sharing their findings. But Derda wants to make his company’s searchable molecular database accessible to all its clients in a move that will speed up discovery.

“We can tell you if the molecule we found is unique or if we’ve seen this molecule in previous searches,” he said.

“As the database expands, it becomes more valuable because clients will know if they have something truly unique and the more we screen the more we know about our system.

Derda said his company will disclose only publicly available information and hide proprietary information, such as the names of previous clients or the nature of their target molecules.

“We did not focus our startup efforts on discovery of a cure for a specific disease. Rather we decided to make our first mission to make it easier for other companies to enter this field and build a powerful molecular search engine that can help other people with their discoveries,” he said.

The official launch of the company was at the University of Alberta Tuesday afternoon.

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