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IU-developed SparksX software promises faster pathway for new drugs to reach patients

IU School of Medicine • 10/7/15


INDIANAPOLIS — By early 2016, Seattle-based Cyrus Biotechnology will launch a tool developed by Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing researchers as part of a molecular modeling-and-design suite that paves the way for faster public access to new drugs.

Under a licensing agreement with the Indiana University Research and Technology Corp., Cyrus will incorporate SparksX, a software package developed by Yaoqi Zhou and colleagues, into its product pipeline. Zhou is a former professor and group leader of the Center for Computational Biology and Bioinformatics at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

SparksX sets a new standard for software designed to recognize protein folds and identify “deep” — or difficult-to-detect — protein sequence similarity, or homology. It was a top performer in the international biennial CASP (Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction) competition.

Cyrus will initially bring SparksX to market as part of the company’s cloud-based platform, Cyrus Bench. Within the platform, Cyrus will combine SparksX’s abilities with the Rosetta software package — developed at the University of Washington and also licensed to Cyrus — to provide a “uniquely powerful tool” for scientists and researchers, Cyrus officials said.

This combination continues to produce world-leading results at the weekly CAMEO (Continuous Automated Model EvaluatiOn) “blinded” assessments for modeling tools. Over time, the product will allow accelerated drug development and quicker deployment of new medicines to market. After Cyrus Bench with SparksX is launched in early 2016, a standalone, SaaS (software-as-a-service) version is planned for release later in the year.

“Cyrus is listening to customers and interviewing scientists to figure out what their needs are, and we believe that SparksX will find an important new commercial market when integrated into the Cyrus Bench SaaS pipeline,” said Lucas Nivon, Cyrus’ CEO and co-founder. “The Cyrus Bench software suite makes difficult computational tasks accessible to any biochemist, and SparksX is a crucial piece of that.”

SparksX is positioned to help further establish Cyrus as a leading company in the drug-development industry, said Marie Kerbeshian, IURTC’s vice president of technology commercialization.

“Cyrus has a suite of products that were originally developed through academic work across multiple universities, and it is a fine example of how startup ventures can further the impact of such research and translate those developments into the marketplace,” Kerbeshian said. “We are delighted to partner with the Cyrus team to bring the SparksX software to market.”

About Cyrus Biotechnology: Cyrus Biotechnology delivers advanced, powerful and easy-to-use protein structure prediction and protein design software. It is based primarily on the Rosetta molecular modeling and design toolkit first developed at the lab of co-founder David Baker, a biochemistry professor at the University of Washington who also heads the university’s Institute for Protein Design. Other founding team members include CEO Lucas Nivon, a former translational investigator at the institute; Chief Science Officer Yifan Song; and Chief Technology Officer Javier Castellanos.

About IURTC: IURTC is a not-for-profit agency that helps IU faculty and researchers realize the commercial potential of their discoveries. Since 1997, IURTC’s university clients have accounted for more than 2,800 inventions, nearly 1,900 patent applications and more than 80 startup companies. IURTC is part of the Innovate Indiana initiative, which engages strategic partners to leverage and advance IU’s intellectual resources and expertise, enhance Indiana’s economic growth and contribute to the overall quality of life for Hoosiers. Indiana University is designated as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities. This recognizes IU’s commitment across all its campuses to being a leading institution in fostering regional economic development.

For technical or product inquiries, contact Lucas Nivon with Cyrus Biotechnology at 206-258-6561 or, or Wesley Pennington with IURTC at 317-278-1913 or