Name: Dr. Atul Butte
Title: Associate professor of pediatrics
Organization: Stanford University School of Medicine
Atul Butte has helped create a computer algorithm that could find blockbuster treatments right under big drugmakers' noses. In the past, scientists have occasionally stumbled upon blockbuster drugs by lucky accident, as was the case when Pfizer ($PFE) researchers happened upon the happy side effect of firm erections with patients taking the drug sildenafil in a cardiovascular disease study. Viagra was born.
Butte, an endocrinologist and medical informatics expert, and his colleagues from Stanford University might be able to take serendipity out of the blockbuster equation. Using public genetic databases and info on hundreds of approved drugs, their computer program has been able to find unlikely pairings of compounds approved for one disease that show evidence of impacting completely different ailments. Take topiramate, a generic anti-seizure med, which Butte's algorithm showed could be an effective drug against Crohn's disease. The technology from Butte's Stanford lab has been licensed by therapeutics startup NuMedii, of which he is listed as a co-founder and scientific adviser.
Smart people like Butte understand that drugs don't just impact the genes associated with one disease but potentially many different genes that play other roles in human biology and, yes, other diseases. So rather than analyzing the impact of diseases on particular organs, Butte's algorithm organizes diseases by their impact on certain genes. To find new drug-disease pairings, the program searches for drugs that have the opposite effect on specific genes as the diseases do, according to Stanford.
Butte's Menlo Park, CA, startup, NuMedii, has been applying the technology to discover new treatments based on such pairings. With the help of the tech, the next drug with Viagra-like market potential could be right around the corner.
NOTE: Photo of Dr. Butte courtesy of Stanford Office of Communication & Public Affairs.