Chemical Con Artists

This article on the Nature News website discusses the area of drug discovery, and how several classes of chemical compounds are often found masquerading as possible new drugs when in fact their apparent activity is merely coincidental. Such molecules are wrongly pounced upon by inexperienced or insufficiently supported chemists, who funnel valuable time and resources into such wild goose chases.

Much work is published in this area, with several compound classes being reported to have apparent activity against diseases which is in fact simply the molecules interfering with the screening. However, work carries on investigating these compounds which experienced chemists would know will leave nowhere, leading to the literature being polluted with false hope and validation, spurring more fruitless work to be carried out.

The article makes for an interesting read – a pan assay interference compound, or PAIN, can work its way through a whole range of tests giving false readouts until it is discovered, wasting an incredibly long amount of a chemist’s time and a company or university’s funding.

Clearly, more needs to be done to save medicinal and biological chemists from falling into the tempting trap of following up on misleading screening. More vigilance and research when choosing targets is obvious, but they also need to work together in order to prevent the same dead ends from being following over and over again. The Journal of Medicinal Chemistry is making a start by encouraging authors to include computer readable structures in their supporting information, so that filters may be able to spot such chemical con artists from being peddled as promising research avenues.

Be aware medicinal chemists – your active compound may not be all that it appears to be!

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