Perlstein Lab (YC W16) Automates Drug Discovery for Rare Diseases

Major pharmaceutical companies rarely focus on orphan diseases, conditions that affect less than 200,000 people nationwide. While many are complex, around 4,000 orphan diseases are caused by only one mutation in a single gene.

Perlstein Lab is a company launching out of our Winter 2016 class that has built an automated drug discovery platform for all rare diseases. It screens for model compounds that can reverse a disease in simple model organisms like yeast cells and nematodes. If a compound is found, this drug candidate can then be tested with patients. 

Jay Donovan wrote a story about Perlstein Lab on TechCrunch:

“First of all, it is important to know that, according to Perlstein, there are about 7000 diseases classified as rare and 95% of these have no FDA approved cure. This is PLab’s area of focus. This is a much different model than Big Pharma which usually focuses on more common illnesses where the research ROI stands to be much greater.

Of these 7000 rare diseases, about half are caused by a single broken gene. These are usually inherited diseases and affect children.

PLab focuses on single broken gene diseases initially because they are obviously less complex and easier to approach. Using a molecular apparatus known as a CRISPR—which Perlstein likened to a command line editor for animal genomes—PLab alters the genome of test animals (yeasts, flies, worms, fish and sometimes mice) to mimic the broken gene disorder…to essentially, make them ill. Because many of these animal are small, even microscopic, PLab can have large numbers of them to test against. 

Then, using an automated platform, they apply thousands of chemical compounds to these animals to see which compounds are effective at reversing or bypassing the loss of the broken gene’s function.”

Read the full story here and learn more about Perlstein Lab through their blog.