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Discovering New Drugs
What is drug discovery?
Why is drug discovery happening at Vanderbilt? Isn’t that the pharmaceutical industry’s job?
What diseases is Vanderbilt developing drugs to treat?
How is genetic research affecting new drugs?
Where can I get information on clinical trials for new drugs?
How can I stay updated on brain disorder drug discovery at Vanderbilt?
Simply put, it’s finding out new ways to treat disease with organic or synthetic compounds.
For thousands of years, we’ve turned to plants for relief from disease. For example:
- Morphine is derived from opium poppies and has been in use since 3400 B.C.
- Digitalis has been used to treat heart arrhythmia and congestive heart failure since the 16th century. It is derived from a plant called foxglove.
- A close analog of Aspirin was used by Hippocrates as early as 420 B.C. and was originally derived from the bark of a type of willow tree.
- Novocaine, the first local anesthetic, is derived from a slight chemical modification of a natural component of coca leaves.
Other uses for common drugs have been discovered accident. For example, the use of an antihistamine was found to reduce some symptoms of schizophrenia. This discovery was important because it showed that dopamine receptors were key in controlling these symptoms. This new information gave scientists a new target for schizophrenia drugs.
Using this information, different combinations of known drugs have been used to create new treatments. This method of re-using and improving on medicinal properties known molecules has been useful since the active component of the drug is known to work.
Plant compounds and combinations of known drugs no longer give the world a steady pipeline of new breakthroughs. For many neurological and psychiatric disorders, there are no known plants that can be used for treatment.
To move forward, we need to better understand the biology of the disorder or disease. Vanderbilt plays an important role in drug discovery by researching basic science concepts that the pharmaceutical industry is not able to fund. For more information, please click here.
Furthermore, drug discovery is very expensive. To bring one drug from the lab to the market can consume between $1−2 billion and 12−16 years of research. For very rare diseases, most drug companies don’t invest in developing drugs that would benefit a small part of the population, because they wouldn’t be able to stay profitable.
As a leading academic medical center, Vanderbilt’s mission and goals support research to help people who have rare diseases and disorders – research that drug companies aren’t doing.
We are working on new drugs to treat several brain disorders including:
- Fragile X
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Anxiety disorders
- Addictive disorders
Patients and families have many questions about drugs the mapping of the human genome. Since the human genome was mapped in the last decade, many hoped that drugs for inherited diseases would shortly follow. However, drug discovery requires much more information than knowing which gene(s) cause a particular disease or disorder. That is just the first step.
Today, the process involves:
- Understanding the biology of the disease/disorder
- Identifying the molecule that can alter this biology
- Developing a drug that can act on that target molecule
- Testing the new drug to see if it works
For more information on the drug discovery process, click here to watch a video of Jeffery Conn, Ph.D.
This video explains how researchers at Vanderbilt are working to fill the drug gap for specific brain disorders.
- Visit our clinical trials website for information on trials here at Vanderbilt.
- To find trials that match your qualifications, register on ResearchMatch.
Check back here for updates.