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Drug discovery

Therapeutic development: how it all starts

It all starts with discovering a new potential drug. This can be done in different ways. Historically, drugs were often discovered by isolating an active ingredient from a traditional medicine (e.g.herbs) or just by chance (the antibiotic penicillin is a good example). Nowadays, often more sophisticated methods, like high-throughput screening of thousands of chemical compounds, are used.

The molecular pathways altered in the disease are investigated and lots of molecules that may influence these pathways are screened. Those showing possible beneficial effects are selected for further research.

Drug discovery

Another way that is attracting more and more attention, is the repurposing of existing drugs, already used for the treatment of other diseases. By investigating the pathways involved in the disease, drugs affecting these pathways are marked as potentially therapeutic. The advantage of this is that there is already a lot of knowledge on the compound, like on metabolism, optimal dosing and safety. Sometimes these drugs are already approved for other diseases.

After selecting potential compounds, their pharmaceutical properties are further investigated to gather information on:

  • Absorption (how is the drug absorbed to reach its target tissue, most often via the bloodstream),
  • Distribution (to which organs is the drug distributed, i.e.the target one, but also other organs, usually the liver and kidney),
  • Metabolism (how is the drug metabolized (converted) in the body), and
  • Elimination (how is the drug in the end excreted from the body, usually via the urine (kidneys) or the feces), in short ‘ADME’.
  • Sometimes it is also called ‘ADMET’, adding Toxicity (safety features of the compound, like the maximum tolerated dose).

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