DNA tags help the hunt for drugs - Biowebspin | Biowebspin
DNA tags help the hunt for drugs

DNA tags help the hunt for drugs

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  Biowebspin, February 26th, 2016

DNA tags help the hunt for drugs

by Asher Mullard, in Nature, 2016

Nestled in a plastic box, in an ordinary laboratory freezer on the second floor of a concrete building in Waltham, Massachusetts, is a clear test tube that contains a concoction of astronomical proportions. The library frozen within, a collection of chemical compounds owned by London-based pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), contains as many as 1 trillion unique DNA-tagged molecules — ten times the number of stars in the Milky Way.

This and other such libraries are helping pharma companies and biotechnology firms to quickly identify candidate drugs that can latch onto the proteins involved in disease, especially those proteins that have proved difficult to target. They enable screening to be performed much more rapidly and cheaply than with conventional methods. And academic scientists can also use them to probe basic biology questions and investigate enzymes, receptors and cellular pathways.

Drug discovery often starts with researchers assembling large libraries of chemicals and then testing them against a target protein. Compounds are added individually to wells that contain the target to see whether they affect its activity. This approach, known as high-throughput screening (HTS), is automated using robotic equipment to test millions of chemicals, but it's still laborious, expensive and not always successful.

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