It’s been over a year since COVID-19 emerged and DrugBank has been at the forefront of COVID antiviral research. Our two co-founders, Mike Wilson and Craig Knox, sit down (virtually) with Arden Tse from the Accelerate Fund. They discuss what it took for the company to get here and the impact of COVID-19 on new growth opportunities.
What’s it been like running the world’s largest pharmaceutical knowledge base during a pandemic?
We’ve had a front row seat to see the evolution of data-driven drug development. As the pandemic began, we added COVID-related drug data and clinical information to our online knowledge base for researchers. Our data was sourced by more than 700 publications related to COVID antiviral development in less than a year. That data-driven approach and AI is how the drug research and development industry has been able to collaborate, discover and commercialize COVID vaccine very fast.
Beyond vaccines and antivirals, the pandemic has had a forcing function causing people in healthcare to adopt digital tools they may have been resisting. Suddenly, we are all using remote telemedicine and electronic medical records.
Talk about electronic medical records – how does DrugBank support that shift?
In the telemedicine space, electronic records have input points to enter information on drugs prescribed or to query treatment options. Those software fields pull information from DrugBank so health care professionals can get more precise at best selecting and prescribing drugs to improve health outcomes, and reduce side effects.
What’s different about DrugBank data? Why is it a Big Data play?
At DrugBank we capture and record everything we know about how drugs work and we structure it in a way that it works for software. When the DrugBank idea got its start in Dr. David Wishart’s lab at the University of Alberta in 2006, it was the first database that made relevant drug information accessible to other systems for analysis. Once you have that structure you can start to solve a lot of different problems from drug development and repurposing to precision medicine. We’re living proof that strong academic research from the University of Alberta can become a successful commercial endeavour worthy of investment and support!
Beyond organizing and structuring existing information, we have also developed a ton of proprietary processes and algorithms to build out and keep the knowledge base up to date. Our expert team of medical doctors, pharmacists and pharmacologists author information on drug ingredients, how drugs function in your body, drug interactions and so on and we use Natural Language Understanding (NLU) artificial intelligence tools to review and extract data points in a structure that can be analyzed.
DrugBank is one of the fastest-growing companies in Edmonton. How’s being here important to you?
There are many institutions and people supporting us here including the University of Alberta – a valuable talent pool for pharmacists and pharmacologists. I repeatedly talk to others in the local tech community that just raised a round – there’s momentum here. And there are drugs out there that exist because of data accessed through DrugBank which we’ve built here in Edmonton.