July 8, 2009

Scientists solve a drug shelf-life problem

Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientists say they've created a computer model that might solve the problem of some drugs having a short shelf life.

Researchers said the problem has plagued drug companies trying to develop medicines made of antibodies: The problem is that, over time, the antibodies tend to clump together, rendering the drugs ineffective.

Antibodies, the scientists said, are the most rapidly growing class of human drugs, with the potential to treat cancer, arthritis and other diseases. But the MIT researchers said there currently is no straightforward way to address the storage issue early in the development process.

Drugs are usually developed with the criteria of how effective they'll be, and how well they'll bind to whatever target they're supposed to bind, said Professor Bernhardt Trout, who led the research. The problem is there are all of these issues down the line that were never taken into account.

Trout and his colleagues, including Bernhard Helk of the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., have developed a computer model that can help designers identify the parts of an antibody most likely to attract other molecules, allowing them to alter the antibodies to prevent clumping.

The model, which the researchers aim to incorporate in the drug discovery process, is described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.