New drugs for biodefense with bioinformatics

Years ago I supervised a research project on genome reduction in bacteria, in obligate intracellular parasites and endosymbionts. We (myself, André Mendonça and Renato Alves), after an extensive exercise in genome data analysis and genome evolution modelling, realised that environmental predictability was a major force driving genome reduction. To this day, this is probably the paper I am most proud about in my career, I really enjoyed researching and writing it with my colleagues, even though it is nowhere near being the most cited or highest impact factor paper I published.

While the science was fascinating (really!!), I suspected form early on that some potential application of this newfound knowledge was possible. I decided to pursue this line of reasoning and ended up developing a drug repurposing strategy for novel antimicrobials based on the specific properties of genome reduction observed in intracellular parasites. After many years, part of this story is out – on the antimicrobial properties of Disulfiram, a drug used to support treatment of chronic alcoholism, and its potential use in Biodefense against the bioterror agent Francisella tularensis. This resulted from a collaboration with the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in the UK and Richard Hampson from Thelial. Links to these papers can be found on my Science page.

The reason why this took so long was that in the meantime, and behind the scenes, there was a lot of bioinformatics research, a failed company attempt with a lot of growing up mixed in the process, multiple patent applications, personal financial investment, negotiations with business angels, design of veterinary clinical trials, learning a lot about veterinary infectious diseases, biological warfare, biodefense readiness, military business world, etc. It was my first entrepreneurial project and while it did not result in a product on the market, I learnt more than I can describe and met many people that are now an important part of my professional network. In the end, this was the project that revealed to me how much I enjoy the process of transforming ideas into products. And that is what I decided to do afterwards and never looked back again.