Featured News A paradigm shift in drug discovery

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Wed, 24 Jan 2018

A paradigm shift in drug discovery

James Cook University scientists have developed a new drug screening technology that’s described as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the war against drug-resistant microorganisms.

Associate Professor Patrick Schaeffer leads the Supramolecular and Synthetic Biology Group at JCU. He said the technology is a breakthrough discovery.

“The world is facing a huge ongoing challenge against drug resistance, with scientists constantly battling in the hunt for new drugs and targets. This requires innovative mechanisms of action and technologies, which we believe we have found here,” he said.

Dr Schaeffer said in order to develop new, safe and effective drugs, millions of compounds need to be screened and tested. The JCU team has developed an innovative high-throughput screening platform to help speed-up this mammoth task.

“The project started almost 10 years ago. It took a few more years to transform it into a high-throughput technology and then another year to get it tuned with the robotics at Compounds Australia where we sourced the compounds. We started screening libraries of natural compounds from tropical sources in 2014 and have discovered new compounds capable of destroying essential enzymes.”

He said the process came into being when he started thinking outside the square.

“I realised that a lot of compounds were destabilising our protein targets and I almost dismissed them as I had always been told that these kind of compounds were promiscuous and useless. It’s one of these ‘trade myths’ that no one usually challenges. I was curious about them. I directed my team to investigate these compounds further and that’s when we discovered that these compounds selectively unfold and virtually destroy their target.”

The discovery will not only lead to the development of better drugs but will also be applicable for the hunt for new herbicides and pesticides which use similar technology workflows.

“In essence we have developed a new workflow to discover drugs, pesticides, herbicides and disinfectants with the advantage that the ‘assembly line’ is of a new kind and that all ‘products’ coming out of it would be cheaper and work in a different and hopefully better way.”

The importance of the research and findings to the broad chemical sciences community is highlighted in an article published in the prestigious journal Chemical Communications here.

JCU YouTube video on the fight against drug resistant bacteria here.


Associate Professor Patrick Schaeffer