Blog Overview

Structure-based Drug Discovery Drives the Development of Novel Treatment Options

Author: Dr. Matthias Leuenberger, Novartis Switzerland, Basel

Drug development is a long and unpredictable process that requires high levels of investment, endurance and state-of-the-art technology. Basic research and collaborations between the pharmaceutical industry and a wide array of service providers and basic research institutions, such as the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) or University of Basel, are essential steps on the drug discovery pathway.

The scientific and financial effort required for developing a new drug has steadily increased over the past decades, mainly due to an understandable increase in safety requirements in the context of clinical trials. From bench to bedside, it now takes between ten and 16 years to launch a new drug. Out of 10,000 substances investigated in laboratory conditions, around ten make it to initial clinical trials and only one will meet all the requirements for market release.

The process of drug discovery relies on state-of-the-art technology at each step of the way, but especially during the initial phases of target identification and characterization and the selection of potential molecules to influence pathological processes. The pharmaceutical industry relies on results from basic research including genomics, proteomics, structural and quantitative biology as key information to be able to identify new drug targets and to streamline the discovery of new substances.

A profound understanding of biological processes down to the smallest detail, including the binding properties of a substance to its target, provides valuable insight into the mechanism of action, pharmacokinetic properties and possible side effects of potential drug candidates. In combination with quantitative mathematical models, this structure-based drug discovery approach facilitates the efficient, focused selection of only the most promising molecules for further investigation, ultimately making the entire process more time- and cost-effective.

In Switzerland, a long tradition of pharmaceutical industry is combined with cutting-edge technology in an environment of strong basic research, paving the way for innovation and forward thinking – for the benefit of society in general as well as the individual patients. The advances in structural biology and the ability to process the data in a meaningful way will continue to revolutionize the way the pharmaceutical industry approaches the discovery of novel and highly specific drugs.