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The Challenge of Predicting Drug Toxicity in silico

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Poor pharmacokinetics, side effects and compound toxicity are frequent causes of late-stage failures in drug development. A safe in silico identification of adverse effects triggered by drugs and chemicals would be highly desirable as it not only bears economical potential but also spawns a variety of ecological benefits: sustainable resource management, reduction of animal models and possibly less risky clinical trials. In computer-aided drug discovery, both existing and hypothetical compounds may be studied; the methods are fast, reproducible, and typically based on human bioregulators, making the question of transferability obsolete. In the recent past, our laboratory contributed towards the development of in silico concepts (→ multi-dimensional QSAR) and validated a series of “virtual test kits” based on the oestrogen, androgen, thyroid, and aryl hydrocarbon receptor (endocrine disruption, receptor-mediated toxicity) as well as on the enzyme cytochrome P450 3A4 (metabolic transformations, drug-drug interactions). The test kits are based on the three-dimensional structure of their target protein (i.e. ERαβ, AR, TRαβ, CYP450) or a surrogate thereof (AhR) and were trained using a representative selection of 362 substances. Subsequent evaluation of 107 compounds different therefrom showed that binding affinities are predicted close to experimental uncertainty. These results suggest that our approach is suited for the in silico identification of adverse effects triggered by drugs and chemicals and encouraged us to compile an Internet Database for the virtual screening of drugs and chemicals for toxic effects.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Biographics Laboratory 3R, Friedensgasse 35, 4056 Basel, and

Publication date: September 1, 2006

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  • Formerly Pharmacology & Toxicology

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