Modern Phenotypic Drug Discovery

science | June 2, 2022 | 146 views

Modern Phenotypic
Nature Reviews Drug Discovery makes these points well. It goes over historical and recent successes of the phenotypic approach, and discusses some areas that it's opening up for discussion and research. One of these is the long-vexed question of polypharmacology: what do you do when your active compound doesn't seem to have a single target, but rather hits a whole list of stuff at varying degrees of potency? Seen from a pure target-based viewpoint, this is a failure, and you'd better start working on something else. But to be honest, there are a lot of drugs out there (and not all of them ancient legacy compounds by any means) that work this way, even if their developers didn't think so at the time. So it's not to be disparaged on principle, but that said, it's still a difficult area to make progress in because of all the variables. A good enough phenotypic hit, though, makes its own case that it's worthy of further investigation and development, even if it's not "clean" by rigorous target-based standards. But as always, your phenotypic screen had better be a good one. That is, it had really better model the human disease in a useful way, and have a good signal/noise. The authors note that you're much better off with assays that involve a gain-of-function/gain-of-signal readout, as opposed to ones that could read out just through cellular stress or cytotoxicity, which is an invitation to chase your tail.

Another area the paper brings up is searching lower-molecular-weight compounds than are usually screened, down to fragment-sized. There are quite a few useful drugs out there with really low molecular weights - ibuprofen, aspirin, metformin, dimethyl fumarate, lacosamide and more - and any screening program would be happy to have discovered something as useful as those. As the authors note, hits like these in phenotypic screens might be another case of polypharmacology, or they might be hitting pathways whose "tone" we have not understood well (and for which micromolar inhibitors might work out just fine). At any rate, there might be an opportunity for fragment phenotypic screening, and even of covalent fragments (which will call for even more attention to the validity of the underlying screening model, I'd say).

The paper discusses the question of target ID, which for most phenotypic programs feels like a natural progression. Most of us are innately biased towards thinking in terms of drug targets, so when a phenotypic compound emerges we want to know what it's "really" doing. And most of the time, there is such a target in there somewhere, although finding it can be quite a haul. I know of several compounds that have been kicking around for years that are obviously doing something in the assays, but no one has ever been able to pin down quite what that is! This paper makes the case for getting out of a binary mindset for target identification. They point out, correctly, that target ID is a means to an end, and that you do not actually need to identify your target to go on to clinical trials and go to the FDA for approval. I always find it surprising to find how many people are surprised by that, but it's true. You also need to realize that knowing a target may not tell you nearly as much as you would want about a compound's mechanism of action, if your new target lands in the middle of a bunch of not-well-worked-out biology.

There's a good case to be made that modern chemical biology and imaging techniques have made it easier to progress things, even if you're not quite sure how they're working. We can extract huge amounts of information about the cellular effects of a given compound, and if you do a good job of matching this against a closely related structure that's phenotypically inactive, you can make a lot of headway. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't bother trying to find the target - as mentioned, this is a great way to expand the knowledge of the underlying disease, and can lead to other new programs spinning off of the phenotypic effort. But it does mean that you shouldn't freeze in fear if you don't have a target to point to. The FDA wants to see safety and efficacy, and that's what we should want to see, too, for starters.

But as the paper notes at the end, phenotypic screening is going to advance at the pace of good model development. Many of these same chem-bio tools can be brought to bear on this question as well, along with advances in cell culture, organoids, and other new assay technologies. You're not going to be able (realistically) to recapitulate all the features of a human disease, so you will probably find yourself concentrating on certain features that you can make the case for driving a project on. I was very happy to see this paper reference Jack Scannell's paper on translatability (blogged about here), because its point is crucial to the whole phenotypic screening endeavour. If your underlying assay is flawed, there is nothing you can do in any other part of the project to make up for it. A poorly translatable assay is a sign that you should spend your time trying to fix it, or to go do something entirely different instead. It is not a sign that you should just keep on going, because "it's the best thing we've got". If it isn't good enough, it isn't good enough. I don't get to quote A. E. Houseman much around here, but he's right: "The toil of all that be. Helps not the primal fault; It rains into the sea. And still the sea is salt." If you don't fix your assay up front, you are raining into the sea.

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Catalent to Acquire Metrics Contract Services for $475 Million to Expand High-Potent Capabilities and Oral Development and Manufacturing Capacity

Catalent, Inc. | August 10, 2022

Catalent, Inc. the global leader in enabling biopharma, cell, gene, and consumer health partners to optimize development, launch, and supply of better patient treatments across multiple modalities, today announced that it has reached an agreement to acquire Metrics Contract Services a full-service specialty Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization with a facility in Greenville, North Carolina, for $475 million from Mayne Pharma Group Limited. Upon completion, the acquisition will strengthen Catalent’s capabilities in integrated oral solid formulation development, manufacturing, and packaging to help customers simplify and accelerate their programs, while also expanding Catalent's capacity to handle highly potent compounds. The 333,000 square-foot Greenville facility features comprehensive capabilities to accelerate and de-risk customer programs from early development through commercial launch through a streamlined one-site solution. Over the past five years, the facility has seen more than $100 million in capital improvements and now includes 16 manufacturing suites, with 11 designed to handle highly potent compounds, as well as two packaging lines that can support a large variety of development and commercial supply programs. The facility’s estimated annual production capacity exceeds one billion oral solid dose units. “This acquisition will further expand Catalent’s ability to meet our customers’ expectations in fast-growing areas of the business and patient need. The experienced team and consistently improved, state-of-the-art facility in Greenville will provide Catalent’s customers with immediate, fit-for-scale capacity for in-demand highly potent drugs and other oral solid small-to-mid-size batch needs. This capacity is particularly important for customers with R&D pipelines featuring accelerated, orphan, and rare disease programs for oncology and other important therapeutic areas,” said Dr. Aris Gennadios, Group President of Catalent’s Pharma & Consumer Health segment. “Over the past several years, Metrics has undergone a period of transformational change to expand its footprint and service offering, becoming a global end-to-end novel oral solid CDMO. Catalent, a global leader in advanced drug development and manufacturing, is well-positioned to continue to invest in and accelerate the growth of Metrics and we believe this transaction will be extremely positive for our Greenville team and customers,” Scott Richards, Chief Executive Officer of Mayne Pharma The new facility will seamlessly integrate into Catalent’s industry-leading oral development and manufacturing network, which includes flagship sites for large-scale and controlled release oral solids manufacturing in Winchester, Kentucky; softgel development and manufacturing in St. Petersburg, Florida; and additional facilities with bioavailability enhancement technologies and complex oral solids manufacturing platforms. The acquisition is expected to close before the end of this calendar year, subject to customary closing conditions, and the entire team of over 400 employees will join Catalent. Mayne Pharma and Catalent have also agreed on the terms of a long-term supply agreement whereby the Greenville facility will continue to manufacture multiple Mayne Pharma products. Catalent will pay the purchase price for this all-cash acquisition using a combination of cash on hand, existing credit facilities, and, depending on market conditions, potentially new debt financing. The closing of the acquisition is not contingent on any financing activity. ABOUT CATALENT Catalent, Inc. an S&P 500® company, is the global leader in enabling pharma, biotech, and consumer health partners to optimize product development, launch, and full life-cycle supply for patients around the world. With broad and deep scale and expertise in development sciences, delivery technologies, and multi-modality manufacturing, Catalent is the industry’s preferred partner for personalized medicines, consumer health brand extensions, and blockbuster drugs. Catalent helps accelerate over 1,000 partner programs and launch over 150 new products every year. Its flexible manufacturing platforms at over 50 global sites supply over 70 billion doses of nearly 7,000 products to over 1,000 customers annually. Catalent’s expert workforce of approximately 19,000 includes more than 2,500 scientists and technicians. Headquartered in Somerset, New Jersey, the company generated $4 billion in revenue in its 2021 fiscal year. ABOUT METRICS CONTRACT SERVICES Metrics Contract Services, a division of Mayne Pharma Group Limited, is a full-service pharmaceutical development and manufacturing organization serving clients worldwide delivering proven scientific and operational excellence for novel oral dosage forms. Metrics provides formulation development, analytical testing and commercial manufacturing from its single-campus facility in Greenville, North Carolina

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