Video Gaming Platform Put to Use in Discovering New Drugs


Medical research and the work in a laboratory have always been going hand in hand.

The virtual reality systems are becoming more and more integrated into our lives, regardless of how odd it may sound. The virtual reality has always aimed to appeal to our sense of reality, so there is a connection that will forever remain between the two. 

The VR has emerged as an entertainment asset to enliven the experience of film watching in the ’50s. The first head-mounted displays (virtual reality headset) were put to use for military viewing of dangerous situations in the ’60s. The late 60’s saw the new computer-generated artificial environment, as opposed to the camera-generated in the earlier devices. The late ’80s brought about the name Virtual Reality and the first try to involve haptics (touching sensation) in the process. 

The ever-growing computer gaming industry saw Sega VR glasses and Nintendo Virtual Boy entering the market in the nineties. Although far from being a commercial success, these developmental stages placed stepping stones for future development with substantial results. The second decade of the 21 century has brought a significant mastery of this complex field of virtual reality to make it possible for us to witness a revolution in the field of biochemistry.

Dr. Charles Blundell, Chief Technical Officer and Founder of the project called C4X Discovery, believes that the special tool they have used in their ground-breaking research can change the way we see the chemistry and drug design forever.

Dr. Craig Fox, Chief Scientific Officer for C4X Discovery, points out that it takes 10 to 12 years to take a drug from primary research to pharmacies. The costs of the process reach around $2 billion. The main goal Dr. Fox and his colleagues at the C4X Discovery have in mind is to create new medicines and take them through partnerships with large pharmaceutical companies to clinical trials in a much shorter period and with substantially reduced costs.

To succeed in that, the researchers from the C4X Discovery engaged in the process a highly accomplished game developer, Philip Muwanga, to work on a program called 4sight.

The program is based on the Unreal Engine, the same platform used for the popular game by Epic Games, Fortnite. Muwanga explains the features C4X Discovery shares with the game: there is a specific user base, and tasks to be done repeatedly.

The Unreal Engine support for the 4sight proved to be beneficial, with the support in Enterprise Medical Software and one of its best and most widely used platforms for the electronic medical record, chart review and research projects, EPIC.

There are also wide-ranged editor capabilities, and the use of C++ code base connects 4sight to many current scientific libraries.

The models that come to life through 4sight recreate that classroom experience from the first school science laboratories, with the hands-on ball-and-stick models. Dr. Blundell explains molecules as a distribution of charge moving around in space. Through the Unreal Engine that dynamics open new opportunities to represent the same data in ways chemists have not imagined before. All that forms a new horizon, arriving at new design decisions, which eventually lead to discovering new medicines.

The mechanics of the working out the models have been inspired by Dr. Blundell’s previous collaboration with a colleague physicist (Dr. Andrew Almond). The two scientists discovering new drugs perceived that small drug molecules interact much more freely as they are much more flexible than the larger ones. Their right placing in cellular “pockets” is essential, as the missed size and shape may cause side-effects. Dr. Blundell finds the process of drug design as searching for the right key to open or to close a lock or trying to find the right dancing partner with whom to form the right connection and move in accord.

As Dr. Thorsten Nowak (VP, structural design & medicinal chemistry expert) concludes: instead of mouse interacting with a computer, a researcher can grab one molecule and wrap it around the other, to make become obvious what otherwise would be hidden.

According to Philip Muwanga, the goal of the project is to build an ultimate interactive environment, where all scientists can work in different modes: in 2D, in VR, in AR (augmented reality), and exchange results in discovering new drugs for various diseases.