Reflections on the CDD Community Meeting – Guest Blog by Dr. Michael Pollastri

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Michael Pollastri, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Chemistry & Chemical Biology at Northeastern University.  To read a summary of this year’s CDD Community meeting, click here.

I had the distinct pleasure to speak at this year’s Collaborative Drug Discovery User Group and Community Meeting in San Francisco three weeks ago. Since then, I’ve had some ideas rattling around in my head – thoughts about some of the contacts I made at the meeting, the themes that were presented, and the general energy in the room.

My first comment centers on the attendees, rather than the speakers. The conference participants seemed, on the aggregate, to be mostly younger scientists – graduate students, postdocs, and newly independent investigators presenting their own work via the posters and making connections. I have attended two neglected tropical disease (NTD)-focused symposia over the last several months: MeND 2010 at Boston University in mid-September (organized by Mind the Health Gap), and Global Worming: The State of Neglected Tropical Diseases Today, (organized by BU students and Universities Allied for Essential Medicines) to kick off the BU Neglected Tropical Diseases Initiative last May. What is striking to me is the youthful energy that is being brought to bear on NTDs in the academic world: medical students, graduate students, and young researchers. More and more students are choosing to focus on this, rather than much glossier first-world indications. It’s as if the word has clicked with many people simultaneously about the need for serious NTD drug discovery efforts, coupled with activism and awareness to help catalyze funding opportunities. As more and more serious drug discovery efforts are built across academia, the need for focus on NTDs has now become widely accepted. This perfect storm seems to be building a true research community in NTD drug discovery.

Second, perhaps not coincidentally, given that CDD sponsored the meeting, a theme of data sharing seemed to emerge. Mention was made of the recent oral presentation by CDD at the Boston ACS meeting describing the sharing of preclinical ADME/Tox; the sharing of 13,000 validated antimalarial HTS hits from GlaxoSmithKilne was used as a frequent touchpoint for discussion; the sharing and implementation of structural filters for identification of promiscuous frequent HTS hitters; availability of compounds for follow-up on the GSK malaria data (Asinex) and of gene-family-targeted sets for benchmark screening in parasitology labs that are making their first foray into target-based drug discovery (which my lab is interested in). In addition, I mentioned a nascent medicinal chemistry consortium that will provide expertise and a small amount of synthesis support for parasitology labs starting drug discovery against NTDs. Perhaps not surprisingly, I had a number of attendees approach me with interest in participating in this initiative on some level.

A third point – I thoroughly enjoyed the phenomenal showcasing of high-throughput technologies: The uHTS presentation from Clifton Barry at NIAID and the retrospective analysis of the impact of HTS presented by Ricardo Macarrón (GSK). I feel that it has become popular to bash HTS and other drug discovery technologies that “haven’t delivered on their promises”…and so it was certainly refreshing to see, first, how HTS technologies are being implemented in ways nobody expected when it was first implemented in the 1990s, and, second, that actually the fruit of the HTS era is just now bearing fruit with compounds in the clinic. Patience is not something we do well in drug discovery.

Many thanks to CDD for the opportunity to speak, and to write my reflections!