Nineteengale Therapeutics is a new joint venture that was launched to fill a large void.

“What’s lacking in the cannabis space is science,” said Naheed Kurji, president and CEO of Cyclica Inc., told BioWorld. “There’s a lot of commercialization, but what doesn’t exist is a deep scientific understanding of the mechanistic impact of cannabinoids.”

Cyclica, along with its partner, Neurotheryx Canada Ltd., both of Toronto, created Nineteengale to find and develop cannabinoid-inspired drugs for bipolar disorder, anxiety and pain management. The new company is based on combining Neurotheryx’s phenotype-based drug discovery platform and Ligand Express, Cyclica’s proteome screen platform, to design molecules that reduce off-target effects while also detailing each molecule's activity by applying integrated systems biology and structural pharmacogenomics.

Nineteengale will use synthetic cannabinoids in its research, Kurji said, to better understand cannabinoids’ mechanism and create a new chemistry that’s patentable and deliverable. The company itself was created in the wake of Entheogenix Biosciences, from Cyclica and Atai Life Sciences AG, in November 2019. Instead of cannabinoids, Entheogenix focused on using psychedelics in its efforts to discover and develop therapeutic drugs for treating mental health indications from depression to schizophrenia. Like Nineteengale, Entheogenix uses Cyclica’s AI-enabled computational biophysics platform to generate de novo chemical entities, designed to select desirable pharmacological targets.

Ligand Design is for multi-objective drug design, and Ligand Express is for off-target profiling, systems biology linkages and structural pharmacogenomic insights. Together they design molecules that reduce off-target effects while also detailing each molecule's activity through the application of integrated systems biology and structural pharmacogenomics. The initial molecules generated by Ligand Design have shown promising in vitro and in vivo data, the company said.

For Kurji, this business model of using AI is the shape of R&D to come, one that he spoke about Friday amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Right now is a crazy time in the world,” he said. “I’m home overlooking Lake Ontario and we’re still working. We have the benefit of having artificial intelligence, the lab of the future. I have a number of peers in the scientific community that are going through difficult times, closing down their labs and their assays. For us, we’re able to contribute to research and development because we’re using cloud computing and AI.”

Next year, Kurji said he hopes to advance a number of molecules in vitro and in vivo through animal model studies and then move into the clinic in the next couple of years. For the moment, the company has no more than 10 employees. Cyclica has 32 employees, with 31 of them being full time.

Numbers played a role in coming up with Nineteengale’s name. The company’s initial stealth name was Nightingale.

“We delivered to our partners 19 compounds, so we said let’s call it Nineteengale,” Kurji said.

Nineteengale and Entheogenix represent two of the 20 companies in Cyclica’s portfolio, what Kurji called a hub and spoke model that allows early stage biotechs to streamline their early efforts. Cyclica is venture-backed, he added, and the company is actively pursuing a new round of financing. The company also partners with big pharma.

“They pay us and keep the lights on while we’re creating,” he said.

The ethos of the company’s strategy, Kurji said, is to democratize access to the computational platform.

“We empower science into early stage biotech companies and support their growth and to partner with them so we’re able to create pipeline of tech companies.”

He added that it’s important to him that Nineteengale is a not a one-off, “that it’s part of a much bigger vision of creating hundreds of companies.”

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