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NLM Director’s Comments Transcript
Boosting Drug Discovery: 02/03/2014

Picture of Dr. Lindberg

Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D. senior staff National Library of Medicine for Donald Lindberg, M.D, the Director of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Here is what's new this week in MedlinePlus.listen

A new website may boost drug development by making it easier to discover if the chemical structure of a medication binds with an intended or unintended biological target, Nature reported recently.

Nature explains Drugable.com helps researchers quickly find if a drug hypothetically docks with an intended protein, which suggests it may be a good candidate to test a medication’s clinical efficacy. In addition, Nature notes Drugable.com helps researchers uncover if a compound hypothetically docks with an unintended protein, which suggests a medication could have unwelcome side effects.

Dr. Timothy Cardozo, a pharmacologist at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told Nature (and we quote): ‘It’s the largest computational docking ever done by mankind’ (end of quote).

In a recent demonstration, Cardozo’s research group took about 600,000 molecules from two international datasets that catalogue millions of publicly available drug compounds. Cardozo’s group assessed the extent these molecules bind to 7,000 structural pockets on human proteins described within the same databases.

Cardozo’s team, then, ranked the docking potential for about four billion possible drug-protein interactions. By cross-referencing these results with another database, the researchers were able to predict where in the body a hypothetical drug might be active.

Cardozo explained to Nature finding potential interactions via computational mining is an initial step within a lengthy, complex drug discovery and clinical trial process. Nature explains once a bind is identified, researchers then can test how the medication impacts a targeted protein within real cells. It is the latter process that initiates clinical testing in animals and humans (which eventually includes several clinical trials and can take many years).

While Nature notes researchers previously used computational biology to discover potential compound-protein binds and interactions, Drugable.com potentially expands and accelerates this process and opens it to more scientists. Drugable.com, which is partially sponsored by the National Library of Medicine, also illustrates the development of computational capacity and the opportunities provided by comprehensive, open access, scientific data sets. In addition, Nature notes Drugable.com will be free, and broadens scientific access to an area of drug discovery that sometimes has been proprietary and expensive to achieve.

Nature reports Drugable.com currently is in beta testing.

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal recently reported pharmaceutical companies are launching new drugs at the fastest pace since the 1990s. For example, 39 new drugs were launched in 2012 (after approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — the FDA). However, the Wall Street Journal reports the sales of newly approved drugs sometimes are not keeping pace with the revenues firms once generated from new medications.

The Wall Street Journal article also reminds us a quicker initial discovery process may or may not reduce the cost of medications. Still, the Drugable.com website potentially opens the comprehensive, initial drug discovery process to more scientists from the around the world.

Meanwhile, the U.S.’ drug development and approval processes are explained (by the FDA) in a link within the ‘related issues’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s drug safety drug safety health topic page. A second FDA website (also within the ‘related issues’ section of MedlinePlus.gov’s drug safety health topic page) helps you keep track of drug recalls, market withdrawals, and safety alerts.

A third website from the FDA (still within the ‘related issues’ section) details unapproved drugs and explains why some occasionally are available in the U.S.

MedlinePlus.gov’s drug safety health topic page additionally provides links to the latest pertinent journal research articles, which are available in the ‘journal articles’ section. You can sign up to receive updates about drug safety as they become available on MedlinePlus.gov.

To find MedlinePlus.gov’s drug safety health topic page, type ‘drug safety’ in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page. Then, click on ‘drug safety (National Library of Medicine).’ Comprehensive information about individual medications — as well as use and safety recommendations — are available in the ‘drugs and supplements’ section found on MedlinePlus.gov’s home page.

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Please email Dr. Lindberg anytime at: NLMDirector@nlm.nih.gov

That's NLMDirector (one word) @nlm.nih.gov

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A disclaimer — the information presented in this program should not replace the medical advice of your physician. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease without first consulting with your physician or other health care provider.

I want to take the opportunity to wish you a very happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. The National Library of Medicine and the ‘Director’s Comments’ podcast staff, including Dr. Lindberg, appreciate your interest and company — and we hope to find new ways to serve you in 2014.