What is Network Biology?

Embracing the complexity of biology


We take our health for granted. The cells and tissues in our bodies remain stable and reliable in the face of constant challenge. Our immune systems deal with invading viruses and remove pre-cancerous cells. These systems are reliable because of their organisation into networks, the building blocks of which include proteins, nucleic acids, fats and sugars. 

On their own, proteins, nucleic acids, fats and sugars are fragile, unstable and highly vulnerable to attack; but connected together in the right way the whole becomes strong, stable and resilient and gives rise to reliable and predictable behaviour (a phenotype).

When we develop a disease, the underlying networks remain robust and difficult to change. Imagine a normal cell that has become cancerous: all the processes that ensure that the cell grows, takes in nutrients and performs its role continue to operate but the cell has become deaf to the signals telling it when to stop dividing.

Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has concentrated on identifying single receptors and enzymes with selective targeting, for example to stop a rogue cell dividing. Such 'top-down' targeting obviously affects the networks involved, but not necessarily in an optimal way and this can translate into efficacy failures and lower productivity later in the development process. Furthermore, in complex diseases such as cancer, there may be many small mutations that combine to produce the disease. In these cases, it is not possible to formulate a target-based hypothesis.

img-04.png We explicitly model the complex cellular mechanisms involved in the disease processes we are aiming to disrupt

Network-driven drug discovery ("NDD")

We have designed a complementary ‘bottom-up’ approach to address some of the difficulties associated with top-down single target discovery. We do not need to know the binding target in advance – even receptors that are currently unknown can be taken account of and drugs with novel mechanism of action ("MoA") can be found, and we can identify synergistic combinations of targets that can be engaged
by combinations of drugs or by new multivalent drugs without knowing in advance what those targets are.

Our NDD platform is an in silico laboratory in which we can carry out millions of thought experiments in a very short amount of time and translate these into the new generation of effective medicines.