"Doctor Noah will realize the possibility of developing a new drug using AI technology in the field of rare diseases."
Lee Ji-hyun, CEO of Dr. Noah Biotech, said during the interview at the headquarters in Suwon. Dr. Noah Biotech (from now on referred to as Dr. Noah) is an AI new drug development venture. In particular, Dr. Noah's technology focuses on the discovery of complex substances fast. They also strive to develop their own complex for neurological diseases.
They received KRW 1.5 billion funding in pre-series A in 2018 and KRW 4.5 billion funding in series A last August. It also attracted KRW 1 billion investment from JLK, which specializes in AI drugs. They have a short company history since the establishment four years ago. However, they have received several love calls from big pharmaceutical and biotech companies such as SK Chemicals and Huons to develop new drugs.
In joint development, Dr. Noah and their partner companies share profits from future development. After Dr. Noah takes charge of the initial stage of discovering candidate substances, partner companies will proceed with pre-clinical trials and clinical trials, including toxicity.
“Noah,” a part of the company name, has a meaning of Noah’s ark from the bible.
When Noah anticipated the great flood catastrophe and built an ark on the top of the mountain, no one believed him. After all, Noah saved people in the story. CEO Lee also strengthened her purpose to do something helpful for people through new drug development someday.
“Doctor" is expressed in English capital letter D, which stands for "Drug Repositioning" used by changing existing drugs. It expresses the development of a new drug, core technology, and business model of Dr. Noah Biotech.
In general, the key factors of AI new drug development are to reduce the time and costs of discovering candidate substances with artificial intelligence and big data technologies in the initial research stage. Among the key factors, Dr. Noah's forte is narrowed down to 'specialized predictions of the complex.' A complex is a drug made by mixing several different drugs.
Dr. Noah had developed an artificial intelligence system based on the idea that the effect was confirmed when different drugs for neurological disorders were combined. Two platform technologies, "CombiNet," which makes this effect predictable, and "CombiRisk," which predict side effects of complex drugs, have become powerful software for the company.
Lee Ji-hyun, CEO of Dr. Noah Biotech, said, "Our goal is to develop our own complex in the nervous system field using AI and enter clinical trials at a rapid pace."
Rather than simply providing AI new drug development services, Dr. Noah’s business model is to discover and develop the pipeline of their own complex and license it at an appropriate time. Currently, a total of six in-house tasks, including stroke and Lou Gehrig, is on-going, and among them, complex drugs that help treat post-stroke are ahead. The efficacy of the first animal experiment has been confirmed, and toxicity testing is being prepared. Their goal is to apply for IND in the second half of next year.
CEO Lee said, "If blood clots are blocked in the brain vessels, and the blood doesn’t flow, most patients get a blood clot removal treatment. If blood clots removals are delayed, brain damage will proceed. So there is no recovery agent even after the blood clots are removed,” and “We are currently checking the efficacy of animal testing by discovering a complex that helps relieve inflammation and recover brain cells after strokes. We are finding how the efficacy turns out with various doses. "
"In terms of market size and development status, anti-cancer drugs are a big part of the market. But, we focus on the neurological disorder rather than jumping into the red ocean," he said. "There are many types of diseases that have not been identified yet, and there are many complicated mechanisms and difficulties because they don't work well."
The complex is mixed with drugs that have been found to have no toxicity problem in clinical trials, reducing relatively early risks and appreciating synergy between the two unpredictable drugs. There was an opinion that they needed to approach more than two proteins in case of neurological disorders because the efficacy may not be enough by targeting only one protein.
CEO Lee Ji-hyun is an expert with IT and BT expertise while studying computer science and pharmacy. She studied Bioinformatics at Manchester University in the U.K. and graduated from Seoul National University with a Ph.D. in pharmacology. During her Ph.D., she developed a complex prediction system. Since her undergraduate years, she dreamed of developing a new drug and started a business after graduating from graduate school.
"I wanted to experience working at a pharmaceutical company, but no pharmaceutical company had the department that I could work in during that time since I majored in developing a complex prediction system," CEO Lee said. "Recently, AI and bioinformatics are drawing attention in the pharmaceutical industry, but people paid little attention to them.”
"The only thing I dreamed of was making effective drugs for people who really needed them as soon as possible," she said. "I wanted to help people with rare neurological disorders with my own hands."
Currently, the key is to start clinical trials of a complex for post-stroke treatment under in-house development as soon as possible. "The new AI drug has not yet been properly verified in Korea," CEO Lee said. "It is because there is no medication in clinical practice, but Dr. Noah wants to do it.”