New compound library to speed drug discovery

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (Sept. 3, 2003) Stockwell leads a research team that has assembled a library of approximately 2,000 tiny molecules (or compounds) that have demonstrated some sort of biological activity. What sets this library apart from similar collections is that Stockwell's group also devised an algorithm that annotates everything each compound can do, incorporating up to 12,000 different functions per molecule. Essentially, says Stockwell, "it's an annotation strategy that captures all of the information associated with the compound," which in turn gives scientists greater and more immediate insight into the molecules they study.

In the September issue of the journal Chemistry and Biology, Stockwell and three other associates from his lab published research demonstrating the power of this annotated compound library. Taking a line of engineered cells originally derived from lung cancer tumor samples, Stockwell and his group tested the entire library for each compound's ability to either prohibit or prevent tumor cell growth. Out of the 2,000 compounds, 85 demonstrated this capability, a surprisingly high number considering that none of these compounds had ever been tested for these types of properties. Stockwell then queried and cross referenced the annotated information for each compound and found common properties shared by most of these 85 compounds.

"Through this assay, we discovered 12 new mechanisms that could be of interest in cancer research," Stockwell says.

For typical compound libraries that lack an annotation system, discovering these mechanisms would have taken years. Stockwell's group located them in a little over a week.

Thinking Big

Imagine a library of Alexandria for biologically active compounds, and this collection's potential becomes clear. Although 2,000 compounds is only a fraction of all biologically active molecules (which in turn is only a subset of all compounds), Stockwell's platform can

Contact: Kelli Whitlock or David Cameron
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research

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