Pharmaceutical companies could almost double the number of targets they aim for when developing new drugs. So a recent study shows.
Mapping unexplored human DNA
A team including protein researchers from Copenhagen Science City-partner University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, mapped two large unexplored parts of the human genome. They demonstrated that the development of new drugs focusses on only 60 percent of potential drug targets. The internationally acclaimed scientific journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery recently published their study.
Data mining identified least studied proteins
The study builds on extensive data analysis conducted using super computers – a technique called data mining. It examined huge amounts of literature within the health and medical sciences and other evidence sources in order to identify the most and least studied proteins for drug targets. The drugs available today relate to less than 1,000 drug targets. According to one author, Professor Søren Brunak of the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, the potential of drug design based on these targets is almost exhausted, and exploring new territory is therefore important. In Copenhagen Science City, protein research and bioinformatics are both global strongholds with a high investment potential. Download fact sheet here.
First solid, comprehensive and useful picture
Almost half the body’s proteins are still poorly understood. The researchers included 20,000 proteins in the study and concluded that 8,000 of these have barely been examined. With this new mapping, the pharmaceutical industry gets the first solid, comprehensive and useful picture of all the proteins that can be used to develop new drugs, says Brunak.
We used highly advanced computer analysis of data to shed light on the parts of the human genome that are rarely researched. We can see that they hold great potential, and we hope the analysis can motivate drug researchers to do some pioneer work. This may prove significant to future drug innovation”: Professor Søren Brunak, University of Copenhagen, Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research.
New gold veins for drug research
Many diseases are caused by dysfunctional proteins that have been damaged by genetic flaws. The vast majority of drugs try to prevent these proteins from being active and thus try to reduce their impact on the disease in question. It is therefore vital to drug development to be able to study and identify the proteins that are instrumental in diseases. Proteins with great potential are often referred to as drug targets and may after extensive clinical trials be approved for use as drugs.
Mapping known drugs for new uses
After mapping them, the researchers divided the 20,000 proteins into four categories and ranked their potential as future drugs. According to the analysis, the mapping also paves the way for new so-called repositioning opportunities, where already approved drugs are tested on new factors. This means that proteins in drugs only approved for one therapy area can be tested for treatment of other diseases.
Next step: Combining text studies with experiments
The combination of categorisation and rankings works almost like a treasure map for drugs, and therefore the project has also received funding for a second stage. Professor Lars Juhl Jensen was responsible for using advanced data mining techniques to sequence the millions of articles.
In stage two of the project we aim to improve our tools for studying the biological functions of drug targets based both on scientific texts and on large experiments”: Lars Juhl Jensen Professor, University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences.