Researchers must not rely on generic online searches for chemical probes, study finds

The ICR has revealed that during drug discovery, researchers should not use general search engines and vendor catalogue information to decide on their use of chemical probes.

A new report has found that biomedical researchers must not rely heavily on online web resources when selecting small molecule chemical probes to aid in their drug discovery studies.

The findings, from The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), London, urge researchers to take into account the benefits and weaknesses of online resources, after examining all of the publicly available resources on chemical probes.

Overall, the report suggests that researchers avoid general search engines and vendor catalogue information. However, use of expert reviews and computational big data approaches is recommended in the report to identify the best chemical probes for biomedical investigations.

Study co-leader Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of ICR, said: “The poor selection and use of chemical probes can lead to incorrect and misleading results. There have been cases where use of poor-quality compounds has led scientists down entirely the wrong track, wasting precious time and funding and even at times slowing down the discovery of drugs for the treatment of patients.”

The results show that many small molecule compounds that have been used as chemical probes are not sufficiently specific for the protein of interest, which can cause incorrect results during studies. Some, the report highlights, can hit a few extra protein targets while others hit many others. 

The issue that the report emphasises is that information about potential chemical probes is published across a range of scientific publications and other sources, making it difficult for scientists to make an informed decision.

…many small molecule compounds that have been used as chemical probes are not sufficiently specific”

Study co-leader Professor Bissan Al-Lazikani, Head of Data Science at ICR, said: “Chemical probes are vital tools in biomedical research, playing a key role in understanding how proteins work and what impact they have in cancer cells. These chemical tools frequently also power the start of campaigns to discover new cancer drugs. So, it’s of the utmost importance that scientists are careful and thorough when choosing chemical probes for their experiments. Failure to do so can result in unreliable or misleading results.”

In summary, the report argues for the continued enhancement of online resources to improve the selection of high-quality chemical probes and increase the strength of biomedical research.

The findings were published in Future Medicinal Chemistry.

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