Expert view: Preparing drug discovery for smart screening era

Advances in genomics and structural biology are providing drug discovery scientists with more biological targets to prosecute, and greater information about each one.

Virtual screening allows for screening orders of magnitude more molecules, while automated chemistry enables rapid exploration of the new chemistry space achieved. With these tools in hand, it becomes possible to intelligently select compounds for screening in drug projects, focusing on those deemed to be the most promising by strong scientific evidence.

To meet the challenges of smarter screening and more campaigns, compound management must, in turn, adopt innovative approaches, advancing its storage, retrieval, and liquid handling capabilities while minimising compound library depletion. AstraZeneca has collaborated with Brooks Life Sciences, Labcyte, and Titian to develop an integrated solution encompassing novel automation, labware, and software. Central to the new technology is the acoustic tube, a storage vessel from which compound solutions can be dispensed directly, without contact, using sound energy. High-density storage and retrieval infrastructure, high-throughput robotic platforms, tube-based acoustic dispensers, and overarching control software enable seamless manipulation of these tubes with maximum speed, flexibility, and efficiency.

The improvements from this new integrated approach will be significant. The advances in storage and retrieval capacity, as well as dispensing throughputs, will facilitate a dramatic increase in the number of screening campaigns that can be pursued and support smarter screening approaches. Fully acoustic workflows will improve the overall quality of screening data generated, while reducing both compound consumption and sample volume across all assays. The miniaturised footprint and simplified workflows will also realise considerable cost savings.

This next generation compound management system has been brought to market through a fruitful industry collaboration. Any organisation can now benefit by accessing these ground-breaking tools to enable smart screening and accelerate drug discovery.

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