Expert view: Tackling drug discovery inefficiencies requires diverse libraries, technologies with broader applicability and actionable insights

Inefficiencies in drug discovery are hard to ignore when despite ever-increasing investment in pharmaceutical research and development, the number of new drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) remains low.

One area that is crucial to making drug discovery more efficient is the screening process. Focusing on novel approaches and developing new technologies will enable scientists to find new drug candidates with a better chance of approval.

With a rise in the number of explorative targets, there is a need not necessarily for bigger libraries, but rather for ones that contain more diverse molecules, especially from new chemical spaces. In turn, this requires affinity-based screening technologies to be more flexible in order to characterise binding events of more heterogeneous targets and ligands. Additionally, in recent years computer-aided iterative screening has become a widespread alternative approach to linear high-throughput screening processes. Implementing this “make-test-make” approach of smaller subsets of ligands requires flexible and fast tools for characterisation of molecular interactions.

Finally, careful consideration of what type of information is needed at each step of the discovery process helps to keep it economical. For example, early in the process, sample purity or kinetic binding information are not always a must.

Common techniques used for affinity-based screens are SPR or ITC, but over the last 10 years, MST has become a primary technology for scientists interested in addressing the inefficiencies in the screening process. It quickly analyses interactions between the broadest range of molecules, even those that are difficult to assess with other technologies, while providing the essential info and actionable insights needed to move forward faster.