Virtual Liver Cells Optimize Drug Development

19 July 2007

Insilico Biotechnology AG from Stuttgart with new funding for systems biology research from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

(Stuttgart) — Since 2005, Insilico Biotechnology AG as an industrial partner in the federal HepatoSys competence network has been performing computer-based mapping and testing of liver cell metabolism. As a service providerin the systems biology sector, Insilico is responsible in particular for determining kinetic parameters using supercomputers. The aim is to model a »virtual liver cell« to enable physiological cell processes — such as the breakdown of drugs and toxic substances — to be followed »in silico«, i.e. on the computer. For the second project phase, this Stuttgart-based life science company is receiving Euro 250,000 of funding in the next three years.

»We applied for the HepatoSys joint project because we saw the link to red biotechnology, i.e. medicine and pharmaceuticals, and to the further development of our range of models,« says Klaus Mauch, CEO of Insilico Biotechnology AG. Until now, it was mainly companies from the »white biotechnology« sector, that is to say chemical companies such as Degussa and BASF, which were interested in the biotech process developer.

As an industrial partner in the HepatoSys competence network, Insilico Biotechnology is now looking to develop its leading global position for models that represent the entire genome of micro-organisms or simulate cell metabolic processes in detail. »After already completely mapping the intestinal bacterium E. coli and yeast on the computer — species that are key to biotechnology — we are now using the hepatocyte, the most common type of cell in the liver, to extend our portfolio for the pharmaceuticals industry,« says Mauch.

The fact that researching drug breakdown in the liver has so far proven very difficult makes hepatocytes particularly interesting for the pharmaceuticals industry. To calculate optimal drug doses for therapeutic use, costly and time-consuming dose-finding studies to calculate risks and side-effects continue to be conducted. Approval for large numbers of new drugs thus extends over several years — effort and expense that Insilico Biotechnology AG, with its systems biology basic research in the HepatoSys joint project, is looking to cut dramatically. »By representing a liver cell virtually, we are creating the basis for simulations that replace experiments with real biological systems and help to achieve time and cost reductions and cut the number of animal experiments in drug development,« says Mauch. The enormous potential of this research work is confirmed by Dr. Klaus Eichenberg, Managing Director of BioRegio STERN Management GmbH, who explains: »This smoothes the way for patient-specific predictive medicine which is effective before an illness breaks out.«

Insilico Biotechnology AG has also assumed the leadership of a project on »Detoxification« in the Stuttgart-based HepatoSys competence network. Together with the Humboldt University of Berlin, the Dr. Margarete Fischer Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology and the University of Stuttgart, it is creating a comprehensive dynamic metabolic model that depicts the breakdown processes in the liver and continually integrates the results of other projects. »It is a kind of circuit diagram showing how components are »connected« to each other,« says Klaus Mauch. »We aim to simulate several hundred reactions, and from the dynamic mapping of these we hope to see indications on drug breakdown in relation to dose, the formation of intercellular dynamics and side-effects.«

So far, around 100 metabolites — breakdown products and intermediates from biochemical metabolic processes which need to be integrated into the model — have been identified in experiments. This results in vast datasets that can only be handled and interpreted using supercomputing. To do this, Insilico Biotechnology deploys its own »Insilico Discovery« modelling and simulation software and the computing power of Europe’s fastest vector processor, which is housed in the University of Stuttgart’s high-performance computer centre. »This gives us a technological edge that enables us to perform preliminary work for model modules that we will offer to the pharmaceuticals industry for licensing in a later phase but may also develop ourselves in collaboration with industrial partners,« says Mauch. Interested parties have already come forward. Insilico Biotechnology intends to use the Euro 250,000 that it is receiving for the second funding phase running until 2009 to continue building on its lead in biotech computer simulation.

About BioRegio STERN

BioRegio STERN Management GmbH is a skill-sharing network, providing a help and advice centre for founders of new businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers in the biotechnology sector in the region comprising Stuttgart, Tübingen, Esslingen, Reutlingen and Neckar-Alb in Germany. BioRegio STERN promotes cooperation between such different disciplines as medicine, biochemical engineering, sensor technology, dietetics, biochemical analysis and bioinformatics. Key areas of focus are regeneration biology and medical technology.

BioRegio STERN represents the interests of founders of new businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers when dealing with the political sector, the media and associations, coordinates economic promotional activities and marketing and provides advice for grant applications and corporate financing, all backed up with efficient press and public relations work.

BioRegio STERN is supported by the Stuttgart and Neckar-Alb regional authorities and the municipal authorities of Stuttgart, Tübingen, Esslingen and Reutlingen. The Managing Director, Dr. Klaus Eichenberg, is a molecular and cell biologist and investment analyst.

About Insilico Biotechnology AG

Insilico Biotechnology designs and optimizes biotech processes for the chemical, pharmaceutical, agricultural and food industries. Insilico boasts internationally recognized expertise and the world’s only system biology platform combining proprietary databases, cell models and computer-controlled evaluation methods. By integrating and evaluating experimental data using genome-wide network models, Insilico offers new solutions for manufacturing biochemicals and biopharmaceuticals, validates active substances and reduces drug development periods. Founded as a spin-off of the University of Stuttgart in 2001, Insilico currently employs eight staff. The company, which was converted into a joint-stock company in July 2006, is headed by Klaus Mauch.

System biology/HepatoSys infobox

System biology is a relatively new branch of bioscience. Its goal is to achieve a theoretical understanding of complex biological processes and systems by using mathematical modelling and computer and engineering science-based analyses. The lion’s share of data on individual cell constituents and their functions can be simulated in predictive models on the computer using biology, information technology and system sciences. This approach to research will enable a whole host of new and innovative applications in medicine (identifying relevant target structures for patient-based development of drugs and treatments), biotechnology (e.g. replacing animal models for substance testing) and in other areas.

The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research’s basic research project »Competence network for system biology of the liver« started in January 2004. In tandem with industry, three collaborative projects (Stuttgart, Dresden, Freiburg) and two research platforms (Magdeburg, Leipzig) are investigating the highly important liver mechanisms of detoxification, dedifferentiation and regeneration. The focus on the »hepatocyte« cell type and the combination of cell biology and mathematical expertise make the system biology competence network unparalleled throughout the world. www.systembiologie.de

Contact

Insilico Biotechnology AG
Klaus Mauch (CEO)
Nobelstrasse 15
70569 Stuttgart, Germany
Phone +49 711 65696661
info [at] insilico-biotechnology.com
www.insilico-biotechnology.com

BioRegio STERN Management GmbH
Dr. Klaus Eichenberg
Friedrichstrasse 10
70174 Stuttgart, Germany
Phone +49 711 8703540
info [at] bioregio-stern.de

Editor: Zeeb Kommunikation
Hohenheimer Strasse 58a
70184 Stuttgart, Germany
Phone +49 711 6070719
info [at] zeeb.info