Photo by DAVID UMBERGER Purdue News Service

Drug discovery is no easy task. One of the most efficient methods pharmaceutical companies can now use is combinatorial chemistry¿an approach that step by step builds up millions of related compounds. Researchers then must screen these libraries in search of the most biologically active chemicals. It can take a year or more to isolate blockbuster drugs from the lot. But a new technique¿dual recursive deconvolution (DRED)¿developed by scientists at Purdue University may speed up the process considerably.

"This is currently the fastest and most affordable method for screening chemical libraries in the search for new antiviral, anticancer or antibacterial drugs," says Hicham Fenniri, who directed the team that created DRED. "How much faster it works depends upon the method to which you compare it. For example, the fastest and closest method is at least four times slower at analyzing small groups of compounds and at least 10 times slower for large groups."

The secret behind DRED is a collection of new beads that tag potential drug targets as they are made. Because the beads possess unique spectral properties, they are easily spotted using standard spectroscopic techniques or multispectral imaging technology. "The identification of a particular combination out of a 64-million member library, for instance, would require only about 120 steps, without the need for sophisticated equipment or complicated and expensive screening procedures," Fenniri adds. "This quick turnaround is possible because the beads can identify the type and location of various chemical building blocks in each compound."