Posted on April 13th, 2019 by Nicki Catchpole in Pharma R&D
Beacon’s beginnings and The Hive
Since its founding in 2016, the trajectory of San Diego startup Beacon Discovery has been linked to Elsevier’s The Hive. A privately held drug discovery incubator that aims to identify and develop molecules targeting G-protein coupled receptors (GCPRs), Beacon Discovery was one of just six companies selected out of more than 150 applicants to participate in The Hive during 2018-19.
Beacon Discovery was formed as a spinoff of Arena Pharmaceuticals to advance some of Arena’s early discovery research as the company transitioned to a clinical development organization. At the core of Beacon Discovery was a group of five scientific managers who had worked together for more than a decade at Arena.
For Beacon Discovery, joining The Hive and being able to utilize Elsevier’s tools in all projects is representing something akin to a strategic partnership during this initial stage of the company, according to Dr. Carleton Sage, Beacon’s Vice President for Computational Sciences.
Beacon is exploiting the potential of orphan GPCRs as therapeutic targets
GPCRs constitute a large family of cell surface receptors that transmit a wide range of external chemical signals into different cell types and are involved in many important physiological processes. Historically, GPCRs have been among the most heavily investigated targets for therapeutic drug intervention. Not surprisingly, they are collectively the target for more than 35 percent of all prescription pharmaceuticals on the market today.
Yet, of all the GPCRs known to exist in humans, more than 70 percent remain un-targeted by any medicine. Meanwhile, a shift in the understanding of the biology of these receptors is taking place at the forefront of GPCR research, as the importance of allosterism, biased ligands and persistent signaling is emerging. In addition, significant advances in biophysical methodology and computational modeling of receptors have enabled a true revolution in GPCR structural biology. With all this, GPCRs remain a rich source of potential therapeutics for a diverse array of medical indications.
Beacon Discovery’s internal pipeline focuses on GPCRs for which the natural ligands have not yet been identified. These so-called orphan GPCRs provide exciting untapped opportunities to develop novel drugs addressing a range of unmet medical needs. But they are also challenging targets. “Because they don’t have ligands associated with them that have been identified, there is very little that we know and we must we rely on combing the published literature for clues,” Dr. Sage says.
Beacon’s business strategy and The Hive
In this initial stage, with compelling drug targets defined, first-in-class technology in place, and expert and cohesive management on board, Beacon Discovery’s strategic plan includes both developing partnerships and securing intellectual property on internal drug discovery and development programs. “We talk about it all the time,” Dr. Sage says. “We are trying to do two things: One is to collaborate with pharmaceutical companies to help them in the early stages of their research and discovery, and the other is to find molecules that we can develop ourselves so they can eventually bring new therapeutics to patients that need them..”
To date, Beacon Discovery has partnered with seven leading biotech and pharmaceutical companies, all working on GPCR drug discovery across a variety of therapeutic areas. In terms of developing a pipeline of drug candidates, it has been critical to quickly access sources of information, especially in a field like GPCRs, where the understanding of molecular structure and function continues to evolve so rapidly.
“What Elsevier’s solutions like ScienceDirect and Scopus do is to make everything more efficient: Instead of having to search in lots and lots of different sources and draw the connections between the pieces of data, we can easily get everything linked and in a much shorter amount of time,” Dr. Sage says.
Elsevier’s tools are also being critical in the area of chemical synthesis, where a solution like Reaxysallows Beacon’s scientists to efficiently turn their different chemical synthesis ideas into reality. In addition, integrated databases of patent data that are chemically searchable are helping Beacon assess the proprietary space as the most promising drug candidates are selected.
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