Step one: understanding disease
Proteins play an important role in the many complex processes in the human body. Knowledge of these processes and the role of proteins in them helps us understand what goes wrong in the body when a person becomes ill. Once chemists have found out which proteins play a crucial role in certain disease processes, they are able to make small molecules that inhibit or alternatively activate these proteins. If we can ensure that these molecules work in an extremely targeted fashion, they can serve as an efficient treatment with the minimum side-effects.
Molecules as building blocks for new drugs
When chemists develop molecules that alter the function of proteins, they draw inspiration from nature. This is because it is known that substances that occur naturally are soluble – an essential condition for medication – and that they can survive in cells without disrupting essential bodily processes. This makes the likelihood of success that much greater than with molecules that chemists develop without first knowing what properties they will have. In the next stage of the process, promising molecules are further developed into usable drugs. Leiden University and the LUMC conduct research into disease, proteins and molecules, thus taking the first essential steps in the hunt for new drugs.
Developing suitable molecules into drugs is a process that takes years and that spans from the test tube to testing on healthy test subjects and patients. During this process scientists regularly find that a substance that seemed promising at an early stage falls by the wayside later on, because it does not work as well on living organisms or because it causes side-effects. Better predictive testing is therefore necessary to indicate at an early stage whether a certain molecule will be effective as a medication for humans. This provides an accurate prediction of the effectiveness of drugs.
From theory to practice: LBSP
LBSP is just a stone’s throw away from the buildings of Leiden Unviersity and the LUMC. On this site of over 110 hectares, more than 200 businesses and institutes focus on numerous different aspects of drug development. The Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research, for instance, which uses groundbreaking organ-on-a-chip technology to see how well a drug works. This research has found its way to market via Mimetas, a company that now operates internationally from LBSP. OcellO tests the effects of drugs in human tissue. Toxys studies whether new drugs could be carcinogenic. Other institutes at LBSP conduct research into the best administration method for a drug or the stability of a particular substance. Drugs are also produced at LBSP.
Thanks to the exceptionally close collaboration between the University, LUMC and LBSP, Leiden has the whole drug development chain right on its doorstep.