Biology Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

SMU Researchers’ New Computational Tech Aims to Speed Up Drug Discovery

Dallas Innovates

Originally Posted: May 11, 2021

Dallas’ Southern Methodist University researchers have written and developed a computational approach to drug discovery that’s meant to expedite the synthesis of derivative molecules normally made in a lab by mimicking the chemical reactions through computer-driven routines.

Currently, the process of research, development and approval of a new drug can take up to 12 to 15 years, and it costs more than $2.6 billion for a manufacturer to get it from the laboratory to a pharmacy’s shelf, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development.

However, SMU’s development, called ChemGen intends to cut the time and costs associated with drug discovery, specifically to enable smaller labs to contribute more research.

John Wise, lead inventor of ChemGen and an SMU associate professor of biological sciences, said the approach could potentially empower a building full of skilled chemists to dramatically increase their productivity from working on as few as six problems a year to as many as 60.

“This approach is very efficient in both time and money,” he said. “It limits waste and makes it more likely that the new drug will be better than what was originally discovered.”

ChemGen, which is patent pending, works by speeding up the pharmaceutical optimization, a process that normally takes scientists months to accomplish. With the help of ChemGen and high performance computers, early drug discovery could be fulfilled in a few days.

The first step to creating a new drug is identifying a molecular target it can act on, Wise said. This target plays a role in why a person infected by a virus will feel symptoms.

Once identified, scientists search for chemical keys that can potentially block the target’s function and prevent the negative biological effects of a disease.

“When a drug company finds a drug hit—a chemical ‘key’ that they think could be valuable—they might have a team of very skilled chemists work on that one targeted molecule,” Wise said. “That’s not the only molecule they’ll work with, but they might spend three months of the next year making 1,000 variations of that one molecule.”

Unlike the traditional approach to pharmaceutical optimization that tests in a physical labratory, ChemGen creates molecular variants of the chemical key computationally.  READ MORE