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Chemical biologists could help accelerate drug discovery

This month’s (July) Nature Chemical Biology includes two articles describing how access to the highest quality chemical probes will ensure their prominent position in the biological and drug discovery toolboxes.

Aled M Edwards, Chas Bountra, David J Kerr and Timothy M Willson, in their Commentary (Nature Chemical Biology 5, 436 – 440; 2009) Open access chemical and clinical probes to support drug discovery, say that drug discovery resources in academia and industry are not used efficiently, to the detriment of industry and society. Duplication could be reduced and productivity increased, they write, by performing basic biology and clinical proofs of concept within open access industry-academia partnerships. Chemical biologists could play a central role in this effort.

The authors’ main argument is that the development of new medicines is being hindered by the way in which academia and industry advance innovative targets. By generating freely available chemical and clinical probes and performing open-access science, the overall system will produce a wider range of clinically validated targets for the same total resource, arguably the most effective way to spur the development of treatments for unmet needs.

In a related article in the same issue of the journal, ‘A crowdsourcing evaluation of the NIH chemical probes’, Tudor I. Opera et al. (Nature Chemical Biology 5, 441-447; 2009) write that between 2004 and 2008, the US National Institutes of Health Molecular Libraries and Imaging initiative pilot phase funded 10 high-throughput screening centres, resulting in the deposition of 691 assays into PubChem and the nomination of 64 chemical probes. The authors ‘crowdsourced’ the Molecular Libraries and Imaging initiative output to 11 experts, who expressed medium or high levels of confidence in 48 of these 64 probes. Crowdsourcing is a cross-disciplinary alternative way to assess confidence for both chemical probes and drug leads: it pools multiple levels of expertise from translational disciplines, providing a rigorous chemical-probe evaluation process.

Nature Chemical Biology website.

Nature Chemical Biology guide to authors.

Nature Chemical Biology focuses and supplements.

Nature Chemical Biology symposium 2009: Chemical biology in drug discovery.

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