Astellas Pharma is making deals with not one but two Japanese universities—Nagasaki University and Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech)—to discover new drugs for the treatment of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) caused by dengue virus. This isn’t the first time either school has collaborated with Astellas to tackle NTDs; last year, both institutes entered research agreements with Astellas to discover drug candidates for the treatment of NTDs caused by protozoan parasites—Nagasaki University in November, Tokyo Tech in July.

Under the new agreement with Nagasaki University, the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Nagasaki University (NEKKEN), a research institute focused on tropical infectious diseases, and Astellas will cooperate on a drug discovery research project, whereby Astellas will provide multiple compounds with possible anti-dengue virus activities, and NEKKEN will evaluate these compounds in an experimental model of infections with dengue virus for dengue fever/dengue hemorrhagic fever. Professor Kouichi Morita, M.D., Ph.D., at the department of virology in NEKKEN, who specializes in tropical infection research, will provide oversight.

The collaborative research will largely be divided into two phases. In the first phase (first screening), the anti-dengue virus activities and cytotoxic activities of compounds will be measured in vitro. In the second phase (second screening), compounds associated with anti-dengue virus activities in the first screening will be tested for in vivo activity by evaluating drug efficiency in animals infected with the dengue virus.

Astellas will be utilizing Tokyo Tech’s petaflop-class TSUBAME2.0 supercomputer for their research as part of their agreement. Tokyo Tech and Astellas will cooperate on an IT drug discovery research project that will be conducted in collaboration with a research group led by professor Yutaka Akiyama, Dr.Eng., at the department of computer science in the Graduate School of Information Science and Engineering, and associate professor Masakazu Sekijima, Ph.D., at the Global Scientific Information and Computing Center.

As with Nagasaki University, the collaborative research at Tokyo Tech will mostly be divided into two phases. In the first step, data mining of public information such as patents and published articles will be carried out with the goal of obtaining useful and effective knowledge about the drug discovery for the treatments for diseases caused by dengue virus. In the second step, in silico screening will be performed to identify compounds, which are predicted to have anti-dengue virus activities. Tokyo Tech will assume responsibility for data mining and for in silico screening calculations of commercially available compounds. Astellas will be responsible for preparing input data for data mining, selecting, and listing of hit compounds to be evaluated based on the in silico screening calculations, with the goal of implementing efficient drug discovery in a short time period.

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