Drug Repurposing Screens: Redeploying Old Dogs for New Tricks

This blog was written by guest author, Amy Landreman, PhD.

Drug repurposing, identifying new uses for approved or investigational drugs, is an attractive strategy when looking for new disease treatments. Because the compounds have already gone through some level of pre-clinical optimization and safety testing, this approach can reduce risk, reduce cost, and speed up the timeline for further drug development. An additional benefit of this approach is that it can result in new biological insights or a better understanding of disease mechanisms since these compounds usually already have some level of mechanistic characterization. Indeed, there are now a number of compound collections openly available specifically for the purpose of facilitating drug repurposing efforts. For example, the ReFRAME (Repurposing, Focused Rescue, and Accelerated Medchem) library is a collection of 12,000 compounds developed by Scripps Research Center and has been screened to identify novel candidate therapeutics for Cryptosporidium infection (1). The Broad Institute also offers a drug repurposing hub that contains an annotated collection of over 7,000 compounds.

Drug repurposing libraries, although often smaller than novel compound small molecule libraries, are designed for implementation into high-throughput screening workflows in order to efficiently triage compounds for the desired result. Effective compound screens require assays that can be scaled to 384 or 1536-well microplate formats and implemented in batch or continuous processing workflows. The firefly luciferase reaction has been leveraged to create many assays that are well-suited to these types of high-throughput screening approaches. In particular, the generation of “Glow” assays that have stable luminescent signals and homogenous assay design is a good fit. The signal stability allows for multi-plate processing and because the reagent is added directly to cells in culture, pre-processing steps are eliminated allowing for automated workflows. Assay reagents such as the CellTiter-Glo® Cell Viability Assay and the ADP-Glo™ Kinase Assay are commonly used in screening efforts including those done with repurposing libraries.  In addition, there are several firefly luciferase reporter assay reagents such as Steady-Glo® and Bright-Glo™ Luciferase Assays that have been optimized for high-throughput detection of firefly luciferase activity making them well-suited to repurposing screens.

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Firefly Luciferase Sheds Light on Development of New Malaria Treatments

field of fireflies at night; researchers are using firefly luciferase as a tool to power screening assays for new malaria treatments

Despite significant advancements in antimalarial drugs and widespread efforts to prevent transmission over the past decade, deaths from malaria remain high, particularly in younger children. New drugs with novel modes of action are urgently needed to continue reducing mortality and address drug resistance in the malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum. While tens of thousands of compounds have been identified as potential candidates through massive screening efforts, scalable methods for identifying the most effective compounds are needed.

The goal is to find a drug that is potent during all stages in the life cycle of P. falciparum and kills the parasite quickly. Focusing on assessing whether a compound can rapidly eliminate initial parasite burden, Paul Horrocks, PhD, and his colleagues developed a validated bioluminescence-based assay that rapidly determines the initial rate of kill for discovery antimalarials. One key to developing their assay was figuring out how to monitor when the parasite dies after introducing the drug. While measuring DNA content can be used to monitor parasite burden, it is too stable to use for a relevant time course assay.

See how Dr. Paul Horrocks uses a firefly luciferase-based system to understand the dynamics of drug action in the development of new malaria treatments.

Enter firefly luciferase, a dynamic reporter tool to investigate drug action. By creating transgenic P. falciparum that express the luc reporter gene, the researchers could monitor drug action over time. When the parasite is killed, it stops making the luciferase reporter. Since there is no new production of luciferase, levels fall quickly after the parasite dies, and a luciferase assay can determine how fast each drug killed the parasite.

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From Live Cells to Lysates: Adapting NanoBiT to a Biochemical Assay Format

The ability to target protein interactions with low solubility or weak binding affinities can present a significant challenge when it comes to drug screening. The beauty of these types of challenges we often face in the lab is that finding solutions to these problems doesn’t necessarily require brand new tools. Sometimes we already have the right tools in our arsenal and, with just a little creativity and collaboration, they can be adapted to address the challenge at hand.

In the following video, Dr. Mohamed (Soly) Ismail, a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Downward Lab of the Francis Crick Institute, presents the perfect example of this with his novel approach to the NanoBiT® Protein:Protein Interaction Assay. Through a collaboration with Promega R&D Scientists, Dr. Ismail has translated the assay into a cell-free, biochemical format, termed the NanoBiT Biochemical Assay (NBBA).

Watch the subtitled version of the video here >

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Malaria?

malaria_researcher
Photo courtesy of NIH/NIAID

Malaria affects nearly half of the world’s population, with almost 80% of cases in sub-Saharan Africa and India. While there have been many strides in education and prevention campaigns over the last 30 years, there were over 200 million cases documented in 2017 with over 400,000 deaths, and the majority were young children. Despite being preventable and treatable, malaria continues to thrive in areas that are high risk for transmission. Recently, clinicians started rolling out use of the first approved vaccine, though clinical trials showed it is only about 30% effective. Meanwhile, researchers must continue to focus on innovative efforts to improve diagnostics, treatment and prevention to reduce the burden in these areas.

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Improving Cancer Drug Screening with 3D Cell Culture

Differential contrast image of HCT116 colon cancer spheroid grown in a 96-well hanging-drop platform after seeding with 800 cells. Copyright Promega Corporation.
Differential contrast image of HCT116 colon cancer spheroid grown in a 96-well hanging-drop platform after seeding with 800 cells. Copyright Promega Corporation.
Tissue culture using primary or cultured cell lines has long been a mainstay of testing compounds for inhibiting cell growth or promoting apoptosis during screening for cancer drugs. However, the standard culture conditions result in monolayers of cells, dividing and growing across the bottom of a well, plate or flask in a single layer. The drawback of this technique is that organisms do not come in monolayers; a three-dimensional (3D) spheroid is closer to the in vivo state, especially if the spheroids are made up of more than one cell type like tumors in multicellular organisms. Even more beneficial would be using 3D cultured cells in high-throughput screening to facilitate compound profiling for target effectiveness and cytotoxicity. In a recent PLOS ONE article, researchers used normal and breast cancer cells both in monoculture and coculture to test a set of compounds and found results differed between 2D and 3D cultured cells. Continue reading “Improving Cancer Drug Screening with 3D Cell Culture”

Screening for Antiviral Compounds under Level 4 Containment Conditions

BiohazardWorking with bacteria and viruses that cause life-threatening diseases with no currently available treatment options takes guts. Most scientists are familiar with the routine requirements of good aseptic technique, are highly aware of laboratory safety requirements, and are more than familiar with autoclaves and sterilization issues, but if we make a mistake the consequences are usually only lost time or a spoiled experiment—not a lost life.

Scientists working with highly virulent organisms deal with a whole other level of risk that requires adherence to the strictest of safety regulations, and these containment regulations can sometimes place constraints on the type of experiment that can be performed with dangerous pathogens. A paper published in the April issue of Assay and Drug Development Technologies brought this to my attention and reminded me of the serious issues some scientists face on a daily basis as they research ways to combat infectious diseases. Continue reading “Screening for Antiviral Compounds under Level 4 Containment Conditions”

Considerations for Successful Cell-Based Assays 3: Treatment Parameters

Welcome to the third installment of our series on cell-based assays. Designed for the newbie to the world of cell-based assays, we have covered the topics of choosing your cell type and basic cell culture tips in the previous posts. In this post, we will discuss how decisions about test compound treatment: how much and how long can affect assay results and interpretation. Continue reading “Considerations for Successful Cell-Based Assays 3: Treatment Parameters”

When the Writing Gets Tough, the Tough Write about Semicarbazide-Sensitive Amine Oxidases

These are the cranes I saw while walking and thinking about SSAOs.
When you hold a position as a scientific communication specialist at a biotech company, you never know what you are going to need to write. Most of the time I really like the fact that I have to master new subject matter on a daily basis. I’m using my degree and my brain, and articulating science in a way that connects with the reader is incredibly rewarding. It’s why I do what I do.

However, when I was asked to write about a new assay for semicarbazide-sensitive amine oxidases (SSAOs), my enthusiasm waned. This is a subject about which I know nothing, so I searched the literature to learn as much as I could. After reading several review articles I was able to write this scintillating paragraph: Continue reading “When the Writing Gets Tough, the Tough Write about Semicarbazide-Sensitive Amine Oxidases”

A Scalable and Sensitive Assay for HDAC Activity

Dysfunction of histone deacetylases (HDACs) is associated with many diseases including cancers, asthma and allergies, inflammatory diseases and disorders affecting the central nervous system. Because of their involvement in such a wide range of pathologies, HDACs have become a target for drug discovery. Traditional HDAC activity assays are either isotopic or fluorescent assays using artificial substrates that are prone to artifacts or fluorescence interference. There is a need for a functional assay that is sensitive, accurate and amenable to drug-screening activities.

A recent paper by Halley et al. in the Journal of Biomolecular Screening describes the evaluation of a bioluminogenic HDAC assay, the HDAC-Glo™ I/II and SIRT-Glo™ Assays. Continue reading “A Scalable and Sensitive Assay for HDAC Activity”

Tips for Multiplex Cell-Based Assay Success

The ability to analyze more than one cellular biomarker in a single sample is advantageous for a number of reasons. Multiplexing allows researchers to save money and time, while conserving precious samples. In addition, understanding the relationship between cell biomarkers can provide a more complete picture of cell health that can lead to improved predictive models for drug discovery. Understanding biomarker relationships can also minimize ambiguity in the data set and validate if a treatment effect is real or an artifact of the system. To avoid repeat experiments and extract the most biologically relevant data from multiplex assays, consider these tips when performing multiplex cell-based assays.
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