Researchers have developed a screening tool for discovering unexpected effects that drugs may have on living cells. It could provide a better way of identifying both potential side effects of and applications for new drugs — and take the serendipity out of the drug discovery process. Published in the current issue of the journal Nature Chemical Biology, the new tool combines modern chemical screening techniques with computer analysis. Using it, pharmaceutical companies could get an early snapshot of the potential uses and possible side effects of particular drugs. Most drugs work by interacting with target proteins to influence their effect on biochemical pathways within cells. But because these pathways and their interactions are complex, a drug can often have side effects — beneficial or toxic. To ferret out these effects, drugs nowadays are usually screened one target protein at a time, says Graeme Milligan, a molecular pharmacologist at the Institute of Biomedical and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow. Although it works, this approach can be costly for the pharmaceutical industry. “Potentially toxic and off-target effects are generally not discovered until a later stage,” he says, after a lot of time, money, and effort have been spent.
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