Dr Peter Hecht, Senior Vice President Discovery Research Operations, Tripos Inc., and Managing Director, Tripos Discovery Research, Ltd.
Would you please provide some background about Tripos Inc.?
Tripos was founded in 1979 as a spin-out of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri and had an initial focus on providing software for computer-aided drug design. The company was purchased in 1987 by Evans and Sutherland, who then spun it out as a publicly traded company. During that time, Tripos evolved from its base in molecular modeling software and began to move into the chemical informatics area.
It became apparent that there was significant business synergy to be realized between our software and informatics tools, and combinatorial chemistry. By the mid 90's, we had started offering compound libraries, and in 1997 purchased Receptor Research, a small, privately held company in the UK, to pursue that vision.
At approximately the same time, we began to anticipate that pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies would see the value in tightly coupling a supportive informatics infrastructure with research activities. With our experience in creating this type of infrastructure for Tripos Discovery Research, it was logical for us to move into the business of providing specific, tailored research informatics solutions for pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.
From our foundation as a software provider, we have evolved to become a partner of R&D-centric; life science companies. We have partnered with a number of pharma companies to provide enabling technologies: Pfizer, Schering AG, Merck Lipha, BioVitrum, Bristol-Myers Squibb. We have also provided discovery chemistry services to biotechnology companies: Metris, Critical Therapeutics, Ionix. There is more information about these relationships in the press releases on our web site.
What is your company's main goal?
Our main goal is to help the pharmaceutical research community reduce their attrition rates; in other words, reduce the number of compounds that are on the development track but fail relatively late in the process. We do this by integrating informatics and chemistry, which means we look at the desirability and do-ability of chemistry for the customer's next set of compounds before we start making them.
This is a knowledge-driven chemistry approach that allows us to increase the chances of successfully moving projects to the next stage in the discovery process and to do this more efficiently with shorter time lines thus enhancing lead identification and optimization.
What proprietary technologies do you have?
ChemSpace® is our key technology for designing and selecting novel compounds. It's a platform for creating enormous virtual libraries and then sifting through them using a variety of design criteria to find those most relevant for a particular target. ChemSpace is tightly integrated with ChemCore™, which is our chemical informatics system. ChemCore tracks every aspect of our compound production processes, including materials, reactions, and chemist activities.
It's a growing knowledge database that records our successes and failures. ChemSpace and ChemCore work together to guide our chemists with regards the desirability and the do-ability of compounds. This gives us the ability to deliver optimal compounds in the quickest possible time frame.
Can you tell us about your recent laboratory expansion?
From our first day of operations, the demand for our services has been growing. In 1999 we built a 24,000 square foot laboratory facility that was supported by a sophisticated integrated informatics infrastructure, one of the few laboratories to be built from the ground up with informatics as a part of the original design. In July 2004, we opened the latest addition to our Bude facility, a £16 million expansion to create a state-of-the-art discovery chemistry facility that boasts over 65,000 sq feet of purpose-built laboratories and office space.
Named the Tripos Discovery Research Centre (TDRC), the new facility is designed to meet increased demand created by the continuing trend for collaborative research in the global pharmaceutical industry and TDR's expanding partnership base.
Has the company changed its name?
Historically, the discovery research component of Tripos' business was called Tripos Receptor Research, Limited. It's now more appropriate to call ourselves Tripos Discovery Research, Limited in recognition of the fact that we specialize in the provision of discovery chemistry services. The facility itself is named the Tripos Discovery Research Centre.
Do you have a new logo?
The Tripos corporate logo has strong market recognition, primarily as a provider of cutting edge discovery software and informatics solutions. Because of this strong tie to informatics software, we wanted to emphasize our strength in the discovery chemistry services sector. For this reason, we developed our new name, Tripos Discovery Research, Ltd., and have a new logo that ties to our corporate strengths, and addresses our focus on providing chemistry solutions for our customer's lead identification and optimization needs.
Can you describe your main customers?
Our primary customers include large pharmaceutical companies and the full spectrum of biotechnology companies. Our biggest customer is Pfizer, with whom we signed a large deal 2½ years ago to provide what they termed 'exquisite libraries' of designed compounds to enrich their corporate collection and to provide follow-up services. Recently we have also announced deals with numerous biotech companies ranging from Biovitrum in Sweden, to Critical Therapeutics in the US and Chronogen in Canada. Our technology is applicable to the life science industry as a whole.
What is your main selling point?
Our greatest strength is our knowledge-driven chemistry process, which we use to provide the best and shortest route to producing compounds that are considered the best candidates for the successful invention of a new chemical entity or drug.
That process comes in different 'flavors' for many different companies, depending on where they are in their discovery cycle for a particular project. It could provide high quality starting libraries for initial screening, such as we have done for Pfizer and many other customers. Or it could be that we collaborate with customers throughout an entire drug discovery program, such as we are doing with Chronogen and Critical Therapeutics. Alternatively we partner with clients to augment their existing projects by adding additional independent chemical series to increase the chance of successfully taking a project through to the clinic.
We would employ our LeadHopping™ technology that allows the identification of shape similar compounds that exhibit similar biological activity, but are structurally diverse. This technology allows us to move our clients out of crowded patent space.
Describe the advantages of knowledge-driven chemistry
Within the industry, there is a general sense that combinatorial chemistry and other high-throughput technologies have not fulfilled their early promise. When the technology was first adopted, companies made large numbers of compounds simply because they could. There was not much consideration given to design. This burst of synthetic activity drove the screening of large numbers of compounds. These same companies quickly found that the success rate of screening these large libraries was very low, and that the two technologies – high- throughput synthesis and screening – had not delivered the expected increase in research productivity.
There are quotes from Chris Lipinsky, which I can only paraphrase, in which he basically states that if companies could take away what they added to their screening collections in the last ten years, they would see an increase in productivity. That's because increasing the number available didn't increase the quality of information embedded in those compounds.
What we're seeing right now in the industry is a maturation of some of these high-throughput technologies. There is a definite need to be coupled with tools that guide decisions: "Where do we go?" What do we synthesize, and what do we synthesize next?" That's where informatics systems play a role: helping Tripos Discovery Research to select the best compounds to make and test so our customers can get to better leads and better drugs more quickly. Our studies indicate that our informatics-driven process can shave up to 30% off the lead identification and optimization process, saving customers as much as 18 months of pipeline time in this cycle. That time savings has a multi-million dollar value attached to it, and that gets people's attention.
Have you got any technologies in development at the moment?
We are constantly developing new technologies that may prove valuable to our clients. One that comes to mind is an extension of the LeadHopping technology I mentioned before. There is considerable information available about the targets in gene families, e;g; GPCRs and kinases. This information can be coupled with our informatics tools to create screening libraries and scaffolds tailored for families of targets. So essentially, one can develop a chemistry platform for a number of different targets, providing a better starting point for the identification of the next applicable lead/drug.
Who are your main competitors?
There are a number of companies who provide similar services to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Tripos Discovery Research has chosen to specialize in the provision of discovery chemistry services. We have decided to partner with other 'best-in-class' companies such as NovaScreen, who specialize in screening technology, to provide complete drug discovery services for our clients.
What are the advantages of outsourcing to a company like TDR?
Of course outsourcing offers a customer a number of advantages, most notably flexible capacity and access to additional expertise. For outsourcing to be successful, it is important that expectations are agreed and goals defined at the start of a project and, most importantly, that progress is monitored throughout.
Tripos Discovery Research adopts a unique approach to informatics driven chemistry. Specializing in discovery chemistry enables TDR to design, synthesize, analyze and purify desirable-biologically relevant compounds in a rapid timeframe to very high quality standards. Our synthetic operation is guided by our proprietary technologies, including ChemSpace, and ChemCore, which ensure that we focus on the most desirable and relevant compounds and that we develop these compounds in the most efficient way possible.
We have a track record in providing strongly managed discovery chemistry services to our customers that routinely result in successful projects, completed within the project timelines and to the customer's exacting standards. Our working practices allow us to rapidly identify projects that are not going to be successful and advise termination of these to minimize customer expense.
How do you convince companies that it is better to outsource?
First of all, one has to be a scientifically credible organization. The company's technology has to achieve what it claims it will. We encourage our prospective clients to visit the Tripos Discovery Research Centre so they can develop a first hand understanding of how we operate. We discuss the impact of our technology on past projects, and focus on their specific problems, sometimes, even at this initial stage, providing them with suggestions for real solutions relevant to their projects.
Secondly, we help them build a business case by supplying quantitative information on the time and cost savings they will realize by partnering with TDR.
What is your current business model? How has it changed as the company has grown?
Tripos and Tripos Discovery Research are built on a platform of science and technologies that are available to the market through a variety of products and services. As a broad business model this hasn't changed as the company has grown. What has changed over the years is the number and mix of technologies, which have evolved and expanded significantly.
Knowledge-driven chemistry is the most recent addition. As we work with our clients, we uncover ways to improve the way we work and to add value to our offerings. Occasionally, we encounter or discover a technology that we believe will have significant impact in addressing our customer's needs and so we find the best way to add this to our offering.
What are your future plans? Will TDR expand again?
Of course we are constantly looking to expand our customer base and as we continue to be successful in this endeavor there will ultimately be a need to further expand TDR. With the opening of the Tripos Discovery Research Centre we have a facility with built-in expansion capacity that will allow us to house an additional 50 staff. We also have scope to further expand the infrastructure of our Bude facility.