What is High Throughput Screening?

By Jack Wogan

Science has become so advanced nowadays that one needs hours if not days to even begin to understand certain notions and terms. So this article is aimed at shedding some light on High Throughput Screening (HTS). The term is not easily pronounced nor remembered by non-native English speakers. This did not stop it from becoming one of the buzz words of high-tech in drug development.

It all began with humans` understandable curiosity to go into the depths of matter and try to figure out how it works. They soon revealed a tangle of protons, electrons and nuclei…..and thus the periodical table was born. But they did not stop there. Molecules were taken apart only to be later re-assembled to form new substances. Pharmaceutical companies soon developed an interest in chemistry “alchemy” and put their knowledge in the service of medicine and drug discovery. Since storing and handling drugs became too tough of a challenge for one company to deal with, they decided to outsource these services to firms or labs which had more experience at compound management than they had.

High throughput screening was just a technique to further enable researchers to come up with new drugs by simply searching through huge numbers of substances for desired activity. The result was lower costs and faster processes. This technique is no easy thing though. It uses robotics, control software, sensitive detectors, data processing, liquid handling devices and the list goes on. For instance imagine you need to find the inhibitor or stimulator of a biochemical which thus becomes a “target”. Against this target millions of assays are run through HTS using chemical compounds from a screening library. Just to get an idea of the extend of such trials, suffice it to say that a library may contain from 100.000 to more than 2.000.000 compounds.

The main downside of HTS is that it comes at a high price. You need a highly specialized screening lab to run HTS operations and small to medium sized research institutes cannot afford it.

Some researchers even dare speak of the future of this technology which appeared in the mid-1990s. In previous years the focus has been on capacity building, they say. It is high time they turn to “quality increase”. As if 100 million reactions in 10 hours would not be amazing enough.

It’s important to work with a company that has significant experience in compound management.

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