In the past, most drugs have been discovered by the study of traditional remedies and identification of their active ingredients, or even by serendipity. With new technologies, a more recent approach has been to understand how disease and infection are controlled at the molecular and physiological level and to target specific entities based on this knowledge.
Despite these advances, drug discovery remains a lengthy and complex process. Typically, new drug candidates identified against a particular target are synthezied, characterized, screened, and assayed for therapeutic efficacy.
This process usually involves high-throughput screening (HTS), in which large libraries of chemicals are tested for their ability to modify or interfere with the target in a selective manner. No perfect drug candidate emerges from these early screening runs. More often, several compounds are found to have some degree of activity, and if these compounds share common chemical features, one or more pharmacophores can then be developed. At this point, medicinal chemists will attempt to use structure-activity relationships (SAR) to improve certain features of the lead compound, which will begin the process of drug development prior to clinical trials.
Drug discovery at Sanford-Burnham focuses on the first step of the process, the Conrad Prebys Center for Chemical Genomics (Prebys Center) was created to allow scientists to screen millions of compounds or small molecules to find the few that could potentially be developed into new therapeutic agents. The CPCCG is one of four national Comprehensive Centers chosen to be part of the Molecular Libraries Probe Production Centers Network (MLPCN).
The Institute has also been recently selected to be part of the NCI Chemical Biology Consortium (CBC). Membership in the CBC offers
an opportunity to participate in highly collaborative drug discovery partnership with the NCI within a network of chemical biologists, molecular oncologists and compounds screening centers from government, academia and eventually industry.
Both networks allow the Prebys Center access to small molecules that can be used as chemical probes to study the functions of genes, cells, and biochemical pathways. The core facility spans a whole range of services, biochemical and cell-based assays, as well as chemistry, cheminformatics, and data management resources, closely integrated to the rest of the program. The Prebys Center provides new ways to explore the functions of major components of cells in health and disease, and bridges the gap between basic cancer research and therapeutic applications.