Things like gene editing, stem cells, immunotherapies and new types of biologics are now mega-trends in the pharmaceutical industry, widely covered in media, and I guess there is little doubt that biology is the next big thing in medicine. However, in this post I would like to outline several hot areas in small molecule drug discovery, suggesting a lot of untapped potential and investment prospects in this more “traditional” pharmaceutical research space.
In 1970-80s, the idea of virtual screening was regarded as a conceptual way to substitute costly and time-consuming experimental “screen-everything-you-have” approaches with a much faster and cheaper predictive modelling to cherry-pick only the best molecules for subsequent synthesis and validation in a lab. A great number of computational tools and approaches emerged, aiming at “pre-screening” new promising molecules, so called “hits”, or augmenting experimental screening programs to optimize efforts.
Effective drug discovery begins with the right assay, but the definition of "right" will shift as technology advances. More often than not, "right" is the product of tribal knowledge, namely the traditions of one's close peer group, study lineage and corporate culture. Instead, the right assay should be a fit-for-purpose application born of a broader, continuously updated, and unbiased consensus. As Steve Hamilton, aka The Lab Man, at the Society for Laboratory Automation and Screening (SLAS) has often stated in his blog posts, "developing assays – properly – is the cornerstone for life sciences R&D."