Expert view: Addressing the big challenges in drug screening

One of the biggest challenges facing drug discovery across all therapeutic modalities (small molecule, biologics, and cellular) remains the balance between physiological relevance and throughput.

The complexity of disease states and the corresponding ‘drug targets’ that must be developed into ‘screenable’ assays has dramatically increased over the last few decades.

Part of this complexity is reflected in the shift from low-information content, biochemical-based assays to cell-based assays that attempt to keep intact the plethora of biological responses (phenotypes) while searching for keys to disarm disease. Traditional methods for studying cell phenotype and function, like microscopy and flow cytometry, are manual and slow, limiting their utility as high-throughput screening devices. In addition, these technologies lack the critical ability to analyse and visualise the large data sets generated in screening.

Over the last few years, high-content screening approaches have been developed to address the need for higher throughput while maintaining the ability to profile cell phenotypes and functions. Commercially available platforms were created by combining imaging and flow cytometry detection ‘engines’ with sampling optimised for throughput (endpoint and/or kinetic) and software to quickly transform the generated data into actionable answers. Sartorius is on the front line of the high content revolution with the IntelliCyt iQue Screener PLUS for suspension cell and bead analysis and the IncuCyte S3 for live cell analysis.

In the future, combinatorial therapy approaches to address diseases and manage side effects will dramatically increase, driving the need for even more screening capacity and higher content. From immuno-oncology to neurodegenerative diseases and beyond, Sartorius technologies will be there to provide innovation and support.