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Concept: High-throughput screening


Medicinal plants have historically proven their value as a source of molecules with therapeutic potential, and nowadays still represent an important pool for the identification of novel drug leads. In the past decades, pharmaceutical industry focused mainly on libraries of synthetic compounds as drug discovery source. They are comparably easy to produce and resupply, and demonstrate good compatibility with established high throughput screening (HTS) platforms. However, at the same time there has been a declining trend in the number of new drugs reaching the market, raising renewed scientific interest in drug discovery from natural sources, despite of its known challenges. In this survey, a brief outline of historical development is provided together with a comprehensive overview of used approaches and recent developments relevant to plant-derived natural product drug discovery. Associated challenges and major strengths of natural product-based drug discovery are critically discussed. A snapshot of the advanced plant-derived natural products that are currently in actively recruiting clinical trials is also presented. Importantly, the transition of a natural compound from a “screening hit” through a “drug lead” to a “marketed drug” is associated with increasingly challenging demands for compound amount, which often cannot be met by re-isolation from the respective plant sources. In this regard, existing alternatives for resupply are also discussed, including different biotechnology approaches and total organic synthesis. While the intrinsic complexity of natural product-based drug discovery necessitates highly integrated interdisciplinary approaches, the reviewed scientific developments, recent technological advances, and research trends clearly indicate that natural products will be among the most important sources of new drugs also in the future.

Concepts: Clinical trial, High-throughput screening, Natural products, Medicinal chemistry, Natural product, Pharmacology, Drug discovery


Human African Trypanosomiasis is a vector-borne disease of sub-Saharan Africa that causes significant morbidity and mortality. Current therapies have many drawbacks, and there is an urgent need for new, better medicines. Ideally such new treatments should be fast-acting cidal agents that cure the disease in as few doses as possible. Screening assays used for hit-discovery campaigns often do not distinguish cytocidal from cytostatic compounds and further detailed follow-up experiments are required. Such studies usually do not have the throughput required to test the large numbers of hits produced in a primary high-throughput screen. Here, we present a 384-well assay that is compatible with high-throughput screening and provides an initial indication of the cidal nature of a compound. The assay produces growth curves at ten compound concentrations by assessing trypanosome counts at 4, 24 and 48 hours after compound addition. A reduction in trypanosome counts over time is used as a marker for cidal activity. The lowest concentration at which cell killing is seen is a quantitative measure for the cidal activity of the compound. We show that the assay can identify compounds that have trypanostatic activity rather than cidal activity, and importantly, that results from primary high-throughput assays can overestimate the potency of compounds significantly. This is due to biphasic growth inhibition, which remains hidden at low starting cell densities and is revealed in our static-cidal assay. The assay presented here provides an important tool to follow-up hits from high-throughput screening campaigns and avoid progression of compounds that have poor prospects due to lack of cidal activity or overestimated potency.

Concepts: Drug discovery, Chemical compound, High-throughput screening, Euglenozoa, Pharmacology, Trypanosome, Trypanosoma brucei, African trypanosomiasis


Screening the active compounds of herbal medicines is of importance to modern drug discovery. In this work, an integrative strategy was established to discover the effective compounds and their therapeutic targets using Phellodendri Amurensis cortex (PAC) aimed at inhibiting prostate cancer as a case study. We found that PAC could be inhibited the growth of xenograft tumours of prostate cancer. Global constituents and serum metabolites were analysed by UPLC-MS based on the established chinmedomics analysis method, a total of 54 peaks in the spectrum of PAC were characterised in vitro and 38 peaks were characterised in vivo. Among the 38 compounds characterised in vivo, 29 prototype components were absorbed in serum and nine metabolites were identified in vivo. Thirty-four metabolic biomarkers were related to prostate cancer, and PAC could observably reverse these metabolic biomarkers to their normal level and regulate the disturbed metabolic profile to a healthy state. A chinmedomics approach showed that ten absorbed constituents, as effective compounds, were associated with the therapeutic effect of PAC. In combination with bioactivity assays, the action targets were also predicted and discovered. As an illustrative case study, the strategy was successfully applied to high-throughput screening of active compounds from herbal medicine.

Concepts: High-throughput screening, In vitro, Case study, Medicine, Screening, Prostate cancer, Pharmacology, Cancer


MOTIVATION: In the drug discovery field, new uses for old drugs, selective optimization of side activities and fragment-based drug design (FBDD) have proved to be successful alternatives to high-throughput screening. e-Drug3D is a database of 3D chemical structures of drugs that provides several collections of ready-to-screen SD files of drugs and commercial drug fragments. They are natural inputs in studies dedicated to drug repurposing and FBDD. AVAILABILITY: e-Drug3D collections are freely available at either for download or for direct in silico web-based screenings.

Concepts: Drug discovery hit to lead, Compound management, Drug development, High-throughput screening, Bioinformatics, Virtual screening, Drug discovery, Pharmacology


During the past decade, virtual screening (VS) has come of age. In this review, we document the evolution and maturation of VS from a rather exotic, stand-alone method towards a versatile hit and lead identification technology. VS campaigns have become fully integrated into drug discovery campaigns, evenly matched and complementary to high-throughput screening (HTS) methods. Here, we propose a novel classification of VS applications to help to monitor the advances in VS and to support future improvement of computational hit and lead identification methods. Several relevant VS studies from recent publications, in both academic and industrial settings, were selected to demonstrate the progress in this area. Furthermore, we identify challenges that lie ahead for the development of integrated VS campaigns.

Concepts: Identification, Integral, Drug discovery hit to lead, Compound management, Virtual screening, Bioinformatics, High-throughput screening, Drug discovery


We conducted a high throughput screening for glyoxalase I (GLO1) inhibitors and identified 4,6-diphenyl-N-hydroxypyridone as a lead compound. Using a binding model of the lead and public X-ray coordinates of GLO1 enzymes complexed with glutathione analogues, we designed 4-(7-azaindole)-substituted 6-phenyl-N-hydroxypyridones. 7-Azaindole’s 7-nitrogen was expected to interact with a water network, resulting in an interaction with the protein. We validated this inhibitor design by comparing its structure-activity relationship (SAR) with that of corresponding indole derivatives, by analyzing the binding mode with X-ray crystallography and by evaluating its thermodynamic binding parameters.

Concepts: Drug discovery, Crystallography, Enzyme inhibitor, X-ray crystallography, Lactoylglutathione lyase, High-throughput screening, DNA, X-ray


Histone acetyltransferases (HATs) catalyze the acetylation of specific lysine residues in histone and nonhistone proteins. Recent studies showed that acetylation is widely distributed among cellular proteins, suggestive of diverse functions of HATs in cellular pathways. Nevertheless, currently available assays for HAT activity study are still quite limited. Here, we evaluated a series of thiol-sensitive fluorogenic compounds for the detection of the enzymatic activities of different HAT proteins. Upon conjugation to the thiol group of HSCoA, these molecules gain enhanced quantum yields and strong fluorescence, permitting facile quantitation of HAT activities. We investigated and compared the assay performances of these fluorogenic compounds for their capability as HAT activity reporters, including kinetics of reaction with HSCoA, influence on HAT activity, and fluorescence amplification factors. Our data suggest that CPM and coumarin maleic acid ester are excellent HAT probes owing to their fast reaction kinetics and dramatic fluorescence enhancement during the HAT reaction. Further, the microtiter plate measurements show that this fluorescent approach is robust and well suited for adaption to high-throughput screening of small molecule inhibitors of HATs, highlighting the value of this assay strategy in new drug discovery.

Concepts: Histone acetyltransferase, Transition state, Compound management, Lysine, Acetylation, High-throughput screening, Protein, Drug discovery


Following the cessation of the global malaria eradication initiative in the 1970s, the prime objective of malarial intervention has been to reduce morbidity and mortality. This motivated the development of high throughput assays to determine the impact of interventions on asexual bloodstage parasites. In response to the new eradication agenda, interrupting parasite transmission from the human to the mosquito has been recognised as an important and additional target for intervention. Current assays for Plasmodium mosquito stage development are very low throughput and resource intensive, and are therefore inappropriate for high throughput screening. Using an ookinete-specific GFP reporter strain of the rodent parasite Plasmodium berghei, it has been possible to develop and validate a high biological complexity, high throughput bioassay that can rapidly, reproducibly and accurately evaluate the effect of transmission-blocking drugs or vaccines on the ability of host-derived gametocytes to undergo the essential onward steps of gamete formation, fertilisation and ookinete maturation. This assay may greatly accelerate the development of malaria transmission-blocking interventions.

Concepts: Yellow fever, High-throughput screening, Anopheles, Immune system, Gametocyte, Plasmodium, Apicomplexa, Malaria


The development of high-throughput screening (HTS) assays with increased sensitivity for the identification of potent and selective inhibitors of galectins has been hampered by the weak-binding affinities between galectins and their carbohydrate ligands. To circumvent this obstacle, we have developed an AlphaScreen assay for a 384-well plate format in a competitive binding configuration for discovery of new inhibitors of galectin-3. His-tagged galectin-3 was bound to nickel-chelate Acceptor beads, whereas biotinylated asialofetuin (biotin-ASF), a galectin-3 nanomolar binding partner, was bound to streptavidin-coated Donor beads. Inhibitors of the carbohydrate-galectin interaction lead to a reduction of the AlphaScreen signal by competing with the biotin-ASF. The obtained IC50 values for known carbohydrate ligands of galectin-3 are in good agreement with the Kd reported and measured for galectin-3 by isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC). Thus, the developed AlphaScreen assay in a competitive binding configuration offers several advantages over the existing screening assays for inhibitors of glycan-lectin interactions. Additionally, the assay format for the galectin-3/ASF pair could be easily applied in screening for glycan- and/or small molecule-based inhibitors of other members of the galectin family.

Concepts: Affinity, High-throughput screening, Interaction, Drug discovery hit to lead, Scientific techniques, Drug discovery, Titration, Assay


Introduction: G-protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) form one of the largest groups of potential targets for novel medications. Low druggability of many GPCR targets and inefficient sampling of chemical space in high-throughput screening expertise however often hinder discovery of drug discovery leads for GPCRs. Fragment-based drug discovery is an alternative approach to the conventional strategy and has proven its efficiency on several enzyme targets. Based on developments in biophysical screening techniques, receptor stabilization and in vitro assays, virtual and experimental fragment screening and fragment-based lead discovery recently became applicable for GPCR targets. Areas covered: This article provides a review of the biophysical as well as biological detection techniques suitable to study GPCRs together with their applications to screen fragment libraries and identify fragment-size ligands of cell surface receptors. The article presents several recent examples including both virtual and experimental protocols for fragment hit discovery and early hit to lead progress. Expert opinion: With the recent progress in biophysical detection techniques, the advantages of fragment-based drug discovery could be exploited for GPCR targets. Structural information on GPCRs will be more abundantly available for early stages of drug discovery projects, providing information on the binding process and efficiently supporting the progression of fragment hit to lead. In silico approaches in combination with biological assays can be used to address structurally challenging GPCRs and confirm biological relevance of interaction early in the drug discovery project.

Concepts: High-throughput screening, Biology, G protein-coupled receptor, Virtual screening, Metabotropic glutamate receptor, Pharmacology, Drug discovery, Signal transduction