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Academia (vs. Industry)

Want Your Compounds Tested Against Pathogens For Free?

I’d like to help publicize what seems like a very worthwhile effort, funded by the University of Queensland and the Wellcome Trust: the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD). Here’s a writeup on them in Nature – what they’re doing is taking compounds from all sources and screening them against panels of important human pathogens, both bacterial and fungal. And they’re doing it free of charge, with no intellectual property claims. It’s hard to see a downside to that!

They’ve received 40,000 compounds since their launch last year, but the numbers are set to increase, and they’re hoping to screen one million by 2020:

The compounds are tested for antimicrobial activity against the most dangerous hospital-acquired, antibiotic-resistant infections Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as the common causes of fungal infections Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida albicans. The programme is working with 88 groups from 26 countries and has a further 300,000 compounds on the way, including those from what will be the first nationwide antimicrobial screening project to be coordinated by France’s National Centre for Scientific Research.

Here’s the link for sending compounds – they need 1mg of dry sample or 50 microliters of 10 mg/mL DMSO stock. They’re ready for everything from single compounds to entire plated libraries. They’re looking for single compounds, not extracts or mixtures, and they’d be glad to get purity information, but it’s not a requirement. 5% of all samples are tested randomly by LC/MS, and anything that hits automatically gets more QC. The workflow is just what you’d expect: single-concentration screen for activity, followed by dose-response for actives, followed by a broader panel and counterscreens for the ones that make it past that. You get 18 months after the results are delivered to patent or publish, and after that the data will appear in an open-access database.

So far, they have 131 compound with confirmed activity against the bacteria or fungi and no toxicity against human cell lines. My guess is that many of these will recapitulate existing mechanisms or activity profiles, but that’s why you do screening, isn’t it? This looks like an excellent chance to get all sorts of unusual chemical matter in front of these organisms, especially for academic groups who may be making some things that wouldn’t usually be seen in a med-chem lab – honestly, I just wish I had all those compounds I made back in grad school so I could send them in now. (The things I’ve made in industry since then have, in many cases, actually seen several of these assays). Time to clean off the shelves!

10 comments on “Want Your Compounds Tested Against Pathogens For Free?”

  1. Road says:

    If I read their terms correctly, you must provide the *structures* of the compounds. CO-ADD will keep the structure confidential for 2 years and then publish it. So this seems fine for compounds that are already patented (or that will be soon) but not appropriate for early discovery work.

    1. Isidore says:

      If the screen yields interesting results you have two years to file, which should be adequate time. Would disclosing the structures under the two-year confidentiality agreement compromise your ability to patent the compounds?

      1. Kazoo Chemist says:

        The compounds might turn up as inactive in the screen and could not be patented using antimicrobial activity as the utility. Then the structures would be made public after the confidentiality time limit. Suppose the compounds are screened after that time in another assay and show good activity. Not such a good situation for the company that owns them.

      2. Road says:

        As Kazoo Chemist said, it’s not the good hits that are a problem — presumably you’d consider taking those into development (and thus be willing to file a patent). But you’d have to (eventually) publish the structures of all the inactives, too. Since patent life is limited, most companies try to patent as-late-as-possible, so there are many compounds sitting in libraries that haven’t been protected yet because they haven’t shown utility yet. And I, for one, would be reluctant to put them into an assay like this because it would mean publishing the structures eventually, even if they didn’t show any activity (which is likely).

        Sounds great for academics, though, who would presumably publish anyway.

  2. SM says:

    It would be really cool for this same thing to exist for cancer screening with the associated counter-screens for normal human cells.

    1. hn says:

      The NCI Developmental Therapeutics Program already provides screening of compounds against the NCI-60 panel of cell lines.

      1. PAM Dirac says:

        And data for about 50K compounds put through that screen are available at
        Structures can be found at

  3. Matt Cooper says:

    Hi all,

    A quick clarification. There is NO requirement to provide structures upon submission; only after we return the hit / toxicity report, then they are held confidentially for 2 years. We do ask for a fingerprint ID, as this can help certain structure novelty. This helps us build a public database to understand what properties of a molecule define anti-microbial activity (final and bacterial) – something we very poorly understand now. If for any reason you need an confidentiality period extension – just write to us and we can help 🙂

    The program is tailored for academic synthetic and medicinal chemists in ALL countries, many of whom do not have access to screening facilities. It took us 4 years and many $m to get all assays and the pipeline from submission to hit validation robust. We have just passed 100,000 compounds received in less than 18 months!

    Academics make weird and wonderful chemistry for a whole variety of reasons – 15,000 new compounds are added to the CAS registry every day, many of these are in different physicochemical space to pharma libraries.

    It’s early days, but we have ca. 30-40fold better hit rates currently than commercial collections we benchmarked. Hopefully they will translate to quality H2L and LO programs.

    CO-ADD is a not-for-profit initiative to combat the very real and growing threat of drug-resistant infections. We crowd source novel chemical diversity from around the world that would otherwise sit on a shelf. This is a public good initiative – we don’t get any return. Please support us if you can.

    1. hn says:

      What’s responsible for 30-40fold better hit rates?

  4. Why the higher hit rates?

    Too early to say definitively, but there is definitely more chemical diversity in the combined global academic collection than current commercial collections. Here academics often strive for novel reactions to derive multiple chiral centers, so molecules can have more sp3 character than sp2 heterocycles etc. Most of our effective antibiotics are derived from natural products, which are sp3 heavy.

    “Drug-Likeness and increased hydrophobicity of commercially available compound libraries for drug screening”, Curr Topics Med Chem, 2012, 12(14), 1500-13, DOI: 10.2174/156802612802652466

    In general, our clinically effective antibiotics have a lower clogD, than that found in typical pharma collections. There are exceptions (e.g. fluorquinilones), but crossing the orthogonal barriers to entry through the two Gram –ve bacterial membranes is a very different challenge than crossing the BBB or oral uptake; see the seminal work by O’Shea and Moser.'Shea_R_Moser_H_E_Physicochemical_properties_of_antibacterial_compounds_implications_for_drug_discovery_J_Med_Chem_51_2871-2878

    Finally, many antibiotics are reactive (suicide inhibitors), and not ‘drug-like’, meaning these chemotypes have in the past been filtered out of many commercial collections. We don’t apply any filters at all – provided it is not radioactive, pyrophoric or an illicit drug, we will screen it (back to the 50’s…)


    “Helping chemists discover new antibiotics”, M.A.T. Blaskovich, J. Zuegg, A.G. Elliott & M.A. Cooper, ACS Infectious Diseases, 2015, 1(7), 3, DOI: 10.1021/acsinfecdis.5b00044

    Mark Blaskovich – CO-ADD Program Coordinator: Hit Validation & Chemistry

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