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Edmonton company blazes new trail in drug discovery

Health and Life Sciences
Published On
May 7, 2021

A University of Alberta spinoff company, 48Hour Discovery is using their technology to both de-risk and accelerate the drug discovery process.  Their technology applies the power of big data to the world of molecular discovery by allowing scientists to sift through billions of molecules at once, rather than needing to test them individually.

Based in Edmonton, 48Hour Discovery has its roots in interdisciplinary research at the University of Alberta that inspired a new approach to the development of pharmaceuticals focused on chemical compounds.

The company grew out of research led by Ratmir Derda, an associate professor at the University of Alberta and recipient of a long list of academic awards. Derda leads a team of researchers focused on recognizing the roles that individual molecules play in complex systems. The university research eventually led to five patents and attracted the attention of pharmaceutical companies, who contracted Derda’s team to contribute to drug‑discovery projects.

“The team did such high‑quality work that we were soon flooded with requests,” says Derda. “And the work inspired the development of a new technology, one that had long been considered possible in theory but impossible in practice.”

To further refine the technology, Derda founded 48Hour Discovery in 2017 and quickly secured a healthy number of clients with a simple, compelling value proposition.

“What used to take six months and cost a million dollars or more, can now be done in 48 hours for one‑tenth of the cost,” says Derda. “A helpful way to understand our technology is to compare it with libraries. There was a time when the only way to learn whether a library had a specific book was to consult its card catalogue. You can do the same thing today in a few seconds using the library’s online search engine. Our technology performs a similar function with chemical compounds instead of books.”

To expand into new markets and develop an export strategy, 48Hour Discovery has worked with Canada’s Trade Commissioner Service (TCS). In 2020, Derda was introduced by the TCS to a contact in Korea, a market in which the pharmaceutical industry has grown considerably in recent years.

“As often happens, one introduction led to another, which led to another,” says Derda. “And we started 2021 by signing a couple of agreements with Korean companies.”

The first is a joint‑research agreement with Novacell Technology, an affiliate of Donggu Biopharmaceutical. Under the agreement, Novacell obtains an option to use the 48Hour Discovery platform. The second agreement, with Quantum Intelligence Corporation (QIC), will see the 48Hour Discovery platform augmented by QIC’s artificial intelligence (AI) platform to create a more advanced drug‑discovery pipeline.

In March of 2021, 48Hour Discovery also announced that they had been awarded $800,00 for its peptide drug discovery using its patented drug discovery platform – a study supported by Merck.

“We are very proud to support this initiative and help 48Hour Discovery extend the potential of this platform with the hopes to accelerate drug development and ultimately address unmet medical needs,” said Jennifer Chan, Vice President, Policy and External Affairs at Merck Canada