Expanding our discovery capabilities with new DNA-encoded libraries

June 15, 2022
Expanding our discovery capabilities with new DNA-encoded libraries

By: Jacqueline Heard

Today, Enko announced that we’re advancing our ENKOMPASS™ platform by acquiring proprietary DNA-encoded libraries (DEL) from X-Chem and exclusive rights to apply them to crop agriculture. These tailored libraries consist of billions of molecules and are considered X-Chem’s latest generation set. Acquiring them makes us the first company to internalize this technology for agricultural applications. 

Why is this important now?

This significant evolution of our platform helps us confront two major trends.

First, the challenges farmers face are becoming more urgent. Agricultural pests, including pesticide resistant superweeds, are threatening harvests that have long depended on crop protection. According to Cornell Agritech, annual yield reductions from unmanaged weeds could be as high as 50% in corn ($26 billion), 52% in soybeans ($17 billion), and 71% in dry beans ($722 million). Severe droughts, the threat of plant disease, and recent constraints on food supply compound the issues for farmers. 

Second, innovation has slowed down across the ag industry. The cost and time it takes to bring new solutions to market has been increasing for years. Current solutions don’t adequately tackle threats to crops, while regulatory shifts are heightening farmers’ need for innovation. Farmers have made clear that time is of the essence in accessing new products. Their livelihoods and the food supply chain are at stake.

Drawing on proven pharma technologies

We leverage many technologies—including DEL, machine learning and structural biology—that the pharmaceutical industry uses to identify new solutions to human health problems. DEL screening is the preferred method to kickstart drug discovery projects because of the simplicity and speed with which one can screen a vast chemical library. We’re applying these proven biotech innovations to new druggable spaces in agriculture, to bring new crop health products to farmers faster. 

Our ENKOMPASS™ platform has utilized DEL and structure-based design since its inception. With this acquisition, we’re evolving the platform by opening up new chemical spaces and incorporating new data into our machine learning models. Incorporating this data into design-test-learn loops will increase our predictive power over time. With each iteration, our ability to deliver better, more selective and safer products will grow stronger.

Agile experimentation: How the acquisition makes us more flexible

By internalizing X-Chem’s DNA-encoded libraries, we can now go after more new modes of action (i.e. ways to eliminate pests) more easily. Our platform allows us to follow the data gleaned from screening libraries and find the most optimal path for the target pest at hand, iterating each time to find the right chemistry that inhibits the weed, fungus or insect without affecting the surrounding ecosystem – much like researchers have tailored cancer drugs to kill cancer cells without affecting others. 

Machine learning combines with the DNA-encoded libraries to supercharge the discovery process. Each experiment with the DNA-encoded libraries results in billions of binding observations with enzymes within each pest. These high-quality training data points feed into  our machine learning models that allow our researchers to find hits more quickly and home in on the right molecules with more favorable (i.e. more drug-like) properties—molecules we might not have found otherwise. Using legacy methods to screen the 100 billion compounds we can access would take tens of thousands of years. In contrast, we can do so in a few weeks. 

Taken together, this new approach to crop health and proprietary DNA-encoded libraries  will uncover safe, effective chemistries that cost less time and money to discover.