VR is helping chemists discover new life-enhancing drugs

21st June 2018

For the first time, scientists can get up close and personal with the drugs they are designing. Grabbing hold of a virtual molecule, floating in space before them, using two lightsabre-wielding claw like hands, the chemist can get as close to touching the desired structure as is (meta)physically possible.

Drug discovery company C4X Discovery (C4XD) has developed its own VR tool, 4Sight, to help its chemist visualise the structure of complex molecules and come up with new drugs. C4XD develops new drugs for conditions like cancer and chronic addiction – the company is, for instance, working with pharmaceutical company Indivior.

Biochemists at C4XD are today using virtual reality technology to develop drugs which treat respiratory conditions and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia. The company had been using its incredibly detailed proprietary database in its work, and have just collaborated with Invidior to try developing a drug that treats addiction. This database records an unusually high level of information about each drug molecule, the different formations it takes, and how often they take them. But, over the past six months, chemists at the company have begun using 4Sight to develop new drugs.

“Starting to use VR was quite trans-formative, because all of a sudden the molecules become part of my world and I can manipulate them in space just ahead of me, like you would do comparing two oranges and two apples,” says Thorsten Nowak, medicinal chemist at C4XD. With the VR platform, drug discovery “became as visual as it can really ever be”.

The tech is increasingly crucial to the bio-medicine team at the company. Encouraged by the results they were seeing from the additional information they were able to store about molecules, they decided to do more with this information by modelling it in VR. Enabling scientists to see the structure of molecules with more accuracy and precision than they can in two dimensions, the company hopes to be able to develop better drugs.