Cardiotoxicity (toxic effects to the heart) is the primary reason 40% of medical drugs are rejected during the drug discovery process. A novel computational chemistry method has been developed which unlocks the ability to catch potential cardiotoxicity earlier in the drug discovery process, providing a solution for a key challenge in drug development, and saving lives and costs in the process.

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Four out of 10 drugs fail during the drug discovery process due to lethal toxicity to the heart. In addition to loss of life and impact to health, there are also significant financial costs, and lost time and resources.

The existing modelling approaches used in the earlier stages of drug development struggle to correctly identify potential cardiotoxicity, meaning drugs can often only be removed from the development process after they have already had the potential to cause harm to life. This leads to the avoidable expenditure of significant financial resources and human effort.

There is a vital need for more effective in silico modelling (experimentation performed by a computer) that could also happen earlier in the process of drug development to identify this risk before reaching human clinical trials.

The solution

Developed by scientists at AWE, this new development advances the testing of drugs earlier in the discovery process – allowing users to predict a drug’s potential cardiotoxicity before reaching human clinical trials. This is a significant step forward for computer modelling in this area and could enable a life-saving capability that has not been possible before.

This new ability to identify and remove potentially cardiotoxic drugs earlier in the process streamlines the drug discovery process and potentially shortens the timeframe for new drugs to reach the market. The financial savings in doing this could be enormous – potentially tens to hundreds of millions per candidate drug.

By enabling testing facilities to advance the testing process to lower risk, the financial, labour, and time costs are lowered per drug that do make it to market as dangerous candidates are eliminated early in the process. This ultimately means more patient lives are saved, and it potentially means that medical facilities such as the NHS could be charged less for new medical drugs as the savings are passed on down the supply chain.

Key benefits

  • This is a fast and efficient method for in silico modelling of cardiotoxicity – saving lives, resources, and time compared to existing methods.
  • The global toxicology market is currently estimated to be valued at $18.3 billion, and is predicted to reach $34.75 billion by 2030. Hundreds of millions of pounds could be saved over the lifetime of each new drug that does make it to market.
  • This technology is complimentary to experimental techniques in vitro (outside a living organism such as a test tube or culture dish) and in vivo (in a living organism).
  • There is further potential to reduce failure rates of candidate drugs and redesign existing failed drug pipelines by designing new compounds and databases without the risk of toxicity to the heart.
  • The method promises to improve accuracy and reliability of toxicity levels modelled – with the level of accuracy continuing to improve over time as more data is collected.
  • There is no known equivalent competitor for this technology.
  • Once the present cardiotoxicity prediction method is established, it will be possible to investigate and develop equivalent methods for other mechanisms of cardiotoxicity, or toxicity to other organs or biological systems.
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Potential applications

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Measuring cardiotoxicity in the drug development process

By ruling out drug molecules that would fail human clinical testing sooner, it enables scientists to streamline the drug testing process to solutions which do not pose this risk – saving costs, lives, resources, and delivering impact. These cost savings can then go into progressing other medical research and drug development, ultimately allowing the potential for more life-saving drugs to reach patients more efficiently.

Potential for development beyond toxicity to the heart

There is also potential for this technology to be developed further to improve drug discovery beyond cardiotoxicity, such as drug design, determining other areas of drug toxicity, and even drug delivery systems.

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