The man making antibodies smarter

AuthorShlomit Lan and Gali Weinreb
Publication Date05 Sep 2021
But Ofran does not think the pharmaceutical companies are the only culprit. "The drug companies are portrayed as a devil who says, 'I won't cure this because it's not worth my while.' But these companies do have a legal obligation towards their shareholders, not to develop drugs unless there's an economic incentive. "

The problem, as analyzed by Ofran, is much more complicated and therefore far more difficult to treat. "There are three players sitting around the drug development table: science, regulation and the business world. Everyone knows the whole thing is in a jam, but if you ask one player why that is, they'll point to the other two and say, 'Because of them.'

"Scientists say business people only go where the money is, and regulators act as if everyone wants to cheat them, and they're both right. Regulators and businesspeople claim that scientists come up with solutions that are bad and can't be implemented in terms of either regulation or business. How can we progress? We need better business models for drug development".

So how can we achieve better results? "Drug development costs must be reduced. After all, most of the money doesn't go on technology but on huge clinical trials - 3,000-4,000 patients in a Phase 3 trial, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Why are these trials so large? Because in statistics, the smaller the difference between the experimental group and the control group, the more subjects we need to see in order to be convinced that the difference is real.

"But if we do trials on drugs that make a really big difference, we can test them on smaller patient groups. So, the better your product, the cheaper it is to develop. And we believe that these results can be achieved by using tools like ours, artificial intelligence and algorithmics.

"The problem is not just regulatory. When the cost of developing a new drug is $1 billion, and the drug company has to decide which of two drugs to trial, it will go with the one that worked in animal trials. And testing drugs on animals is a mistake, it doesn't work. Scientifically it's stupid. There's an old joke about a conference on cancer where the speaker says he's got great news for all the mice in the audience."

And then, once again, there's a headline, "Cure for cancer found" but in fact, there's no cure?

"In the end, we will actually solve cancer, because we know what causes it. But when we solve one problem, we replace it with another problem."

Ofran, naturally, believes he has a better solution. Under his management, Biolojic Design has developed a technology for developing and programming antibodies using computational mathematics, big data and artificial intelligence. Unlike the usual antibodies serving the pharmaceutical industry, the promise is smart antibodies, a sort of nano-robot that, like human antibodies, is able to adapt to changing situations. "In two or three months we're going to inject the first computer-designed antibody in history into a human," he announces jubilantly.

Sounds great. But let's start with the most burning issues: Can your technology cure Covid-19?

"Certainly," he replies emphatically. "Our technology is capable of producing smart nano-robots that can measure things and react to them. From a purely technological point of view, there's no problem in applying it to any protein system that's harming the body, whether a cancerous growth, a bacterium, or a virus. The question is, what's the right way? If you can hit your enemy with a cap gun, you don't need an F16. There may be simpler ways, like a vaccine."

And what about infectious diseases?

"An interesting thing has happened with infectious diseases. Just before the coronavirus, we were looking at developing infectious disease drugs and we saw that most big pharmaceutical companies had closed those departments because infectious diseases weren't economically worthwhile. Infectious diseases were...

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