Pharma & drug development

How a new crystallography technique may speed up drug development

Scientists from Newcastle and Durham Universities have developed a new technique that uses nanoscale droplets to grow crystals of organic soluble molecules. This development has the potential to accelerate and enhance the drug development pipeline. Abi Millar finds out more.

For chemists looking to understand molecular structures, crystals play an indispensable role. When a given material is crystallised – the molecules packed together in such a way that a crystal forms – it can be studied using a technique called x-ray crystallography. This is one of the best techniques we have for discovering how the atoms in a material bond together, and can provide a basis for designing new drugs.

The difficulty here is that not every material can be crystallised, or at least, it can’t be done easily. Often, it requires a kind of trial and error approach, with scientists running many different crystallisation experiments in the hope that one of them will yield results. This can take many weeks to complete, and may require impractically large quantities of the material in question.

Now a team of chemistry experts, from Newcastle and Durham University and SPT Labtech, have designed a new technique to speed up this process. Known as Encapsulated Nanodroplet Crystallisation (ENaCt), this is a robot-assisted, high-throughput method that requires only micrograms of material per experiment. Within a few minutes, the user is able to set up hundreds of tiny crystallisation experiments. This speeds up the process of getting results.

Read the rest of this article in the August 2020 edition of Pharma Technology Focus

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