Late in April, Ajay Royyuru looked over a crowd of data-mining experts and said, “The number one problem that biologists face today is the data-explosion problem.” If anyone could handle such a problem, it should be Royyuru, who is head of the Computational Biology Center at IBM’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, N.Y. But he knows that it’s not enough to simply collect huge volumes of information about biological compounds and pathways. “To figure out what the rules of operation are is going to take a lot of work,” he said. Many biotechs and pharmas also face this problem as they screen huge libraries against therapeutic targets. For example, Merck’s library is approaching two million compounds. Consequently, most scientists in industry want more than high-throughput screening; they also want high-content screening (HCS).
At the 2007 meeting for the Society for Biomolecular Sciences in Montreal, Thermo Fisher Scientific unveiled a collection of new products related to HCS and high-content analysis. This included the Thermo Scientific HCSExplorer, which is informatics software aimed at HCS. This package relies on Web-based technology, and it includes special features to visualize data and to compare images. This company also released an update of its HCS Analysis Platform, which also includes enhanced methods for displaying images. It can work with data from HCS readers or microscopes from various companies.
Other companies also offer HCS equipment. For example, PerkinElmer provides the Evotec Technologies Opera system, which reads confocal microplate images. A team of scientists from Roche used this platform to study G protein-coupled receptors, as described in a 2006 issue of Methods in Enzymology. This work used in silico approaches along with high-content techniques in confocal microscopy to identify potential therapeutic targets. The authors wrote that their approach could be used in most any laboratory.
In fact, companies even provide help for scientists who want to use HCS but don’t want to build the assays. Invitrogen, for instance, will develop custom HCS assays. In the past, these custom assays have included automation-ready HCS assays, multiplexed imaging assays, and streamlined fluorescence staining workflow. As the Invitrogen literature states: “We are able to fulfill requests for one-time assay development, manufacture optimized assays to provide a continuous supply for your research, or arrange for OEM licensing of existing or new assays.”
The growing list of approaches to HCS could prove extremely useful across biotech and pharma. By adding content to high-speed operations, scientists will know more and sooner. Consequently, potentially toxic compounds, for example, could be removed from the pipeline before spending much time or money on them. Likewise, HCS can lead investigators to the compounds that are most likely to make the transition from lead compound to new therapy.
About the Author
Mike May, PhD, May is a publishing consultant for science and technology based in Minnesota.
This article was published in Drug Discovery & Development magazine: Vol. 10, No. 6, June, 2007, p. 18.
Filed Under: Drug Discovery