Posts from February 2020

Using Natural Language Processing (NLP), Agios Pharmaceuticals discovers new therapeutic candidate

As the search for novel anti-cancer agents continues apace, the biopharma industry struggles to make sense of the myriad studies that are published describing putative small molecule inhibitors, potential genetic targets, and possibly susceptible points of attack. One area of growing interest in oncology is cancer cell metabolism: companies are striving to develop compounds that can interrupt or inhibit the metabolic process, leading to tumor cell suppression or death. The dual challenges are to identify promising lead compounds, and to detect suitable genes implicated in the metabolic process and sensitive to chemical intervention.

Rather than starting from scratch with a blank structure-activity canvas and pursuing the traditional (and potentially lengthy and risky) lead identification/lead optimization route to a pre-clinical candidate, Agios Pharmaceuticals decided to short-circuit the process and build on previously published studies. They wanted to locate and source known inhibitors for use as tool compounds in their chemical genetics screens and to identify genes with “druggable Achilles’ heels” susceptible to chemical attack, and they chose to use NLP to quickly and effectively scour the literature.