October 21, 2019

Taking pharmaceutical discovery to the next level in Unreal Engine

By Simon Jones

I’m very fortunate to get to see many amazing uses of Unreal Engine across a broad variety of industries, but those that know me well are aware there is one user case from Manchester, England that’s truly blown my mind. 

Just picture being able to harness the capabilities of Unreal Engine to profoundly improve and save lives, to contribute to developing cures and therapies for the sick or addicted, and help make the world a better place for those who are suffering from a broad range of maladies.

That’s exactly what C4X Discovery is doing. Using the same technology we used to develop our Fortnite video game, C4X Discovery aims to develop medicines in the digital world that will make a crucial impact in the real world.
As a leading innovator of research, discovery, and development in the pharmaceutical industry, C4X Discovery is on a quest to uncover and design new drugs that could have a huge impact on the healthcare world in the years to come. While the process of taking a new drug from concept to market typically moves along at a slow, methodical pace, the team at C4X has found Unreal Engine is the perfect catalyst for unlocking the path forward in faster, more immersive ways.
C4X Discovery found Unreal Engine to be the best tool for scientific visualization.

“It takes about 10 to 12 years to get a drug from the idea to the market,” says Dr. Craig Fox, chief scientific officer at C4X. “We work at the front end of that for the first two or three years, and our idea is to generate novel medicines that we then license to large pharma partners, who then take them into the clinic.”

Mixing molecules with Unreal Engine

Discovering a drug that is effective for its intended purpose is no simple feat, but it all starts with the shape and behaviors of molecules. Dr. Charles Blundell, CTO and founder of C4X, says the task of pairing the right drug molecules with their target proteins in the human body is much like finding a good dancing partner.
C4X Discovery finds that virtual reality interaction with molecules and their real-life properties to be a great improvement over the traditional ball-and-stick model.

“The molecule has to be the right shape to grab onto its dancing partner, the target protein, and they have to move at the same time in the same ways at the same rate,” he says. “Our 4Sight application, built within Unreal Engine, allows us to capture that complexity of the dance so that our chemists can understand what choice to make, and which partner is the next best one to go with.”

Unreal Engine has everything the team needed to build 4Sight, and the mix of excellent support paired with the engine’s powerful features made it a great fit for the company’s needs, says Phil Muwanga, lead software developer at C4X.

Drug Discovery 2.0

Building the old standard “ball and stick” models doesn’t accurately mirror the way molecules actually look and behave, but having a VR-capable 3D tool like 4Sight lets scientists experience molecules from an entirely different perspective.

“[Molecules] are distributions of charge moving around in space,” explains Blundell. “Unreal Engine gives us a whole load of new opportunities to represent the same data, but in ways that chemists have not imagined before. And because of that, you can make new design decisions which lets us make new medicines.”
Finding molecules that go well together is like finding a good dancing partner.

The ability to go hands-on with 3D molecule models in VR, explore them from different views and angles, and interact with them in new ways is a game-changer for pharmaceutical discovery. “I believe the 4Sight tool will change the way we see chemistry and drug design forever,” says Blundell.

Want to create your own immersive VR experience? Download Unreal Engine today.