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EDA tools aid in drug development

Posted: 12 Feb 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:automation tools? drug development? EDA veterans?

EDA industry veterans say techniques used for chip design can be adopted for new drug discovery and development.

While the results of applying EDA tools to drug discovery may take awhile, proponents argue that the technology could speed development of new drugs to fight disease.

Senior executives from Cadence Design Systems and Magma Design Automation launched Cellworks Group Inc. in India in 2005 to focus on drug development. Cellworks' R&D center here employs 65 people, and it is now emerging from stealth mode.

David Knapp, a co-founder of Get2Chip, recently joined Cellworks' advisory board. Among its investors are: Pradeep Fernandes, a former VP with Cadence; Steve Carlson, a current Cadence VP; and Anand Anandkumar, corporate VP of Magma Design. Taher Abbasi, previously director in the logic synthesis at Cadence, is CEO of Cellworks Group.

'In-silico' platforms
Cellworks executives said it is developing techniques to speed drug research by integrating research from biology with mathematics and engineering to create "in-silico" platforms.

Cellworks describes its strategy as moving EDA to PDA, or pharma design automation. Cadence CEO Mike Fister views the effort as one that transfers the best practices of the EDA industry to new drug discovery. "The drug discovery technology challenges of complexity of physiology, biology-chemistry convergence and personalized medicine have parallels with the semiconductor evolution," Fister said.

Among the EDA-PDA parallels, Abbasi said, are that chip design consists of two phases: logical, including design function and architecture capture; and physical, which includes design implementation on silicon. At the logic stage, the focus is on functionality and predictions of timing, area and power characteristics along with the overall goal of convergence of these predictions at the physical implementation stage.

"Similarly, in drug discovery there are two phases: biology, which is formulation of a physiology-based drug mechanism of action, and a chemistry phase, which is coming up with a compound to affect this mechanism," Abbasi said.

In EDA, methodologies for different design objectives like performance or low power are defined and implemented in automation flows. In drug discovery, systems biology and methodologies can be defined for studies used to identify bio-markers and perform toxicity analyses. These experimental recipes enable automation-based methodologies for drug design, proponents say.

In semiconductor design, "the complexity and size of chips is pushing automation technology to look at techniques to manage run-times of different optimization and verification," Abbasi said.

Similar concepts
In drug design, the complexity of cellular and biochemical pathways are often more daunting. Hence, when using emulation systems to understand disease physiology and drug mechanisms, "similar run-time management concepts are applicable," he added.

Cellworks has so far staged one round of angel funding, and has performed studies for Merck's painkiller, Vioxx.

Fred Gorin, an oncology researcher at the University of California at Davis, is using Cellworks' technology to study different mechanisms by which a drug or genetic inhibitors affect cell migration, adhesion and attachment.

Cellworks Group also has ongoing research programs with hospitals such as Ceders Sinai in the United States, and the National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences and the Indian Institute of Science in India.

- K.C. Krishnadas
EE Times

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