Keen Therapeutics collaborates with Chemical.AI to boost drug R&D

By The Science Advisory Board staff writers

November 15, 2022 -- Biotechnology startup Keen Therapeutics and artificial intelligence (AI) technology company Chemical.AI have announced a milestone in their collaboration. Leveraging Chemical.AI's automated synthesis lab and ChemFamily products, Keen contends it has been able to expedite their drug discovery processes, particularly in their study of ferroptosis.

Research in ferroptosis -- a new form of programmed cell death -- has become a popular research area since it was first discovered in 2012. The major regulatory mode of ferroptosis is through the SLC7A11/GPX4 pathway, which biotech companies have used to develop ferroptosis inducers.

Previous research has found that specifically small molecule inhibitors targeting GPX4 can achieve sustainable efficacy in several mice tumor models. However, developing small molecule GPX4 inhibitors can be difficult due to the lack of possible drug-binding pockets, and existing tool compounds show low selectivity and poor pharmacokinetic properties.

Keen Therapeutics has conducted target screening and selected several ferroptosis-related targets. The company used systemic evolutionary chemical space explorer (SECSE), an algorithm-powered de novo drug design platform, to systematically explore the whole chemical space against these targets. Hundreds of molecules were designed, rapidly synthesized, and subsequently optimized.

With the support of Chemical.AI's team, Keen Therapeutics in less than two years discovered compounds that are orally bioavailable and demonstrate good in vivo efficacy, according to the company. Chemical.AI's team completed rapid delivery of complex molecules and met Keen Therapeutics' request of weekly compound evaluation, greatly accelerating the design-make-test-analyze (DMTA) cycle and enhancing R&D efficiency, Dr. Yikai Wang, founder and CEO of Keen Therapeutics, said in a statement.

In the field of chemical synthesis, as labor costs rise and labor supply begins to decline, automation plays a more and more important role, according to the companies.

"The team of Keen Therapeutics has a deep understanding of AI-enabled drug discovery and has already made breakthrough progress in several early-stage targets in tumor metabolism in a very short amount of time, particularly in the field of ferroptosis," Dr. Ning Xia, founder and CEO of Chemical.AI, said.

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