Alydar has chosen to target cardiovascular and nervous system disorders, as well as cancer.”Over the last few years, much of the focus of the life sciences industry has been on discovering new drug targets,” said Rivka Sherman-Gold, president and CEO of Alydar Pharmaceuticals, a start-up company with a unique approach to drug discovery. “Today, the industry has come to the point at which we have more drug targets than we know what to do with, but where are the drugs themselves?”

This is the question that drives Alydar, the company that Sherman-Gold heads from the San Francisco Bay Area but which has its origins, founding R&D operations and financial backing in Israel. The company is developing a library of potential drugs based upon a naturally occurring set of compounds known as infochemicals or, by their more scientific name, semiochemicals.

These compounds act as chemical messengers in nature, carrying information between members of the same species or from one species to another. They are produced by all species, ranging from low-level organisms, plants and insects to marine life and mammals, including humans. They elicit physiological, developmental and behavioral responses and, critical to science and the drug discovery process, their structure and action is often well understood.

“Much of drug discovery today begins with random chemical compounds, which have no known biological activity,” Sherman-Gold said. “Many drug discovery companies have focused on screening huge random libraries of chemical compounds, with the hope of finding chemicals that may be active for a certain target.”

The process is not unlike looking for a needle in a haystack.

“Another way to find new drugs is to do molecular modeling of a particular drug target, and try to synthesize a chemical that will interact with it. Theoretically, both of these approaches should work well, but in reality it hasn’t worked out as hoped,” she said.

“By looking at infochemicals, however, we’re starting at a point where we know the compound has biological activity, with well-documented molecular level interaction,” Sherman-Gold said.

Alydar has established a library of pure, synthetic compounds whose structures are based on well-characterized natural infochemicals. The company intends to use these compounds as the basis for collaborations with life sciences companies that have discovered novel drug targets, and that will test Alydar’s bioactive infochemicals on their system to find new drug interactions. Additionally, Alydar will use its infochemical library in its own R&D activities, including disease-specific screening programs focused on cardiac and neurological disorders, and cancer.

Alydar was established in 1999 by Medison Biotech, the investment arm of the Israel-based Medison Group, which includes Medison Pharma, a provider of marketing operations and clinical trial services in Israel for a broad range of international partners.

The company’s scientific founder is Nadav Zamir, formerly of Tel Aviv University, who had been developing a library of infochemicals as a source of potential new drugs before founding Alydar. Zamir now serves as chief scientific officer at the company. New compounds for Alydar’s library are obtained from Zamir’s work, as well as through exclusive collaborations with scientific advisers who have synthesized infochemicals.

According to Sherman-Gold, an important advantage of infochemicals is that they work on signal transduction pathways, which by their very nature include the type of chemical-receptor interactions that drug developers seek in identifying therapeutic compounds.

“Signal transduction mechanisms are highly conserved throughout nature, so compounds which are found in a butterfly may also have biological activity in humans, increasing the potential number of bioactive compounds that may be therapeutic,” Sherman-Gold said.

The company has chosen to target cardiovascular and nervous system disorders, as well as cancer, because “the mechanisms of infochemicals are relevant in these systems,” Sherman-Gold said.

Alydar is currently seeking between $5 million and $10 million to fund development, including the continued testing of compounds in various disease models and pre-clinical development. The money is also needed for the establishment of collaborations with companies and academic institutions.

“We’re a very small company, yet we’re truly global,” Sherman-Gold said of Alydar, which has just six employees, three of which are in the United States, and three in Israel. “Currently, we’re doing our R&D work in Israel and in the U.S., but we will do research where it makes sense – geography does not limit our operations.”