ADSI is using nature’s intelligence for drug research
ADSI, the Austrian Drug Screening Institute, is a research company of the Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck (LFUI). The company is dedicated to drug screening, meaning the systematic search for new active ingredients. They are expected to help treat inflammations and metabolic diseases effectively and gently.
On nature’s path
- ADSI is the only screening institute in the world to screen selected natural products and thereby benefits from the expertise of Bionorica SE.
- In sophisticated test systems, diseases are reproduced in such a natural way that the active substances, which are successful in the laboratory, later perform well within patients.
High Content Screening with customized, clinically relevant assays
ADSI, the Austrian Drug Screening Institute, is a new research company of the Leopold-Franzens-University Innsbruck (LFU) and offers contract research for companies and academic research institutes. The unique feature about ADSI is that cell-based assays are tailored to be particularly clinically relevant. On the other hand, these assays are read out with High Content Content Screening with regard to as many parameters as possible. This enables scanning focused substance libraries quickly and systematically for effective candidates (hits) for a wide variety of medical questions.
Drug candidates with better opportunities
ADSI does not limit itself to answering the question: does it work or not. ADSI provides an explanation of how and why a substance works and whether side effects are to be expected. This information will help to better assess the potential of compounds for clinical trials. With this concept ADSI offers not only an ideal platform for finding drug candidates, but also a special environment to accurately characterize and further develop the first hits from a previous high throughput screening (Hit to Lead).
Co-cultures, analytics and toxicity tests
The particular strengths of ADSI are evident at all levels of early drug development:
- Special extraction processes and chemical analysis make it possible to optimize the production of effective substance mixtures, especially plant extracts.
- The screening of co-cultures consisting of different cell types is carried out under controlled oxygen conditions. The cell systems are also monitored over a long period of time using state-of-the-art analytical methods in order to investigate the influence of test substances on cell communication and signal transduction as well as to elucidate what happens to the test substances in cell metabolism.
- Toxicological tests provide initial information on the tolerance of test substances. This results in a profound, meaningful and trend-setting screening result for further development.
Management and cooperation
ADSI was initiated by the cell biologist Prof. Lukas Huber, head of the Biocenter at Innsbruck Medical University, and Prof. Günther Bonn, head of the Institute for Analytical Chemistry and Radiochemistry at Leopold-Franzens-University, and Bionorica SE. ADSI is scientifically managed by Prof. Bonn and Prof. Huber.
Bionorica is the first partner company to use the Institute’s screening services for the development of effective plant extracts for phytomedicine, making ADSI’s expertise in the screening of natural substances a key differentiator. Further partnerships with companies and public research institutions are envisaged within the framework of a public-private partnership.
ADSI also benefits from its proximity to the Innsbruck clinics and the close cooperation with the Center for Personalised Cancer Research Oncotyrol, in which promising lead structures with company partners can be led into preclinical and clinical development.
In Innsbruck, strong focal points in basic research have been established over the last ten years in the fields of cell biology/oncology as well as analyticals/proteomics. These have been and will be supplemented by industry-related applied research at the Centre for Personalised Cancer Medicine Oncotyrol, in GEN-AU and EU research projects on proteomics or oncology, as well as in long-term cooperations with Bionorica Research GmbH. The Austrian Drug Screening Institute was established on this basis.
It was founded by Prof. Günther Bonn (Institute for Analytical Chemistry and Radiochemistry of the Leopold Franzens Universität Innsbruck), Prof. Lukas Huber (Institute for Cell Biology at the Biozentrum of the Medical University Innsbruck), Prof. Michael Popp (Bionorica Research GmbH) and Land Tirol. The Austrian Academy of Sciences has evaluated ADSI internationally, both scientifically and through representatives of international corporations, and is the patron of ADSI. The research building Innrain 66a was chosen as the location because of its close proximity to the university campus, the Oncotyrol Cancer Research Center and other institutions and companies in the life sciences sector.
By mid-October 2012, the infrastructural adjustments by the Tyrolean regional hospitals (TILAK) had been carried out and completed with funds from the Tyrol. The machine park, which had been carefully selected and tested over the previous year, was then installed. The official opening of the ADSI took place on 27/11/2012.
More successful drug development
Developing a new drug is a costly business. Bringing a drug to market takes an average of more than ten years and costs at least one billion dollars. An important reason for the enormous costs is that many active ingredients fail late in development, about half of which are not even in the final clinical trial phase. And the incidence of failure continues to rise, according to an analysis by the Centre for Medicines Research in the UK. The main reasons for failure are poor efficacy and safety (Nature, vol. 477, 526-528).
In the 1990s, great expectations had been placed in the combination of high throughput screening (HTS) and combinatorial chemistry. The pharmaceutical companies invested in fully automated robotic lines to test ever larger substance libraries in ever shorter periods of time. The sheer mass of chemically synthesizable test substances was to revolutionize the search for new active ingredients. Expectations were so high that they could only be disappointed. On the 24/02/2004 the Wall Street Journal published an article with the headline “Drug Industry’s Big Push Into Technology Falls Short“. Although the pharmaceutical industry’s expenditure on expensive technologies in research continued to rise, the number of newly approved drugs declined.
Combination is the key: chemistry, biology and robotics
Chemical & Engineering News (Vol. 82, 23-32) quoted a pharmaceutical manager with the insight: “Pharma has gone through periods of thinking chemistry is all-important, or biology is all-important, or robots are all-important. They are coming to realize that you need a mixture of all of them. You need to have both the chemistry and the biology to know what’s going on… This isn’t a numbers game, and you really have to understand what you are doing.” Since then, the drug discovery process has been changing. The collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and smaller partners has proven to be particularly successful (Nature Reviews Drug Discovery 7, 197-198).
These findings are perfectly reflected in the Austrian Drug Screening Institute ADSI in Innsbruck, both in its structure as a public-private partnership and in its scientific orientation. In ADSI, the cell biological expertise is combined with analytical-chemical expertise. Robotics and automation are used with a sense of proportion and maximum information gain from the individual assay. High Content Screening (HCS) is more about the quality of results than quantity. The throughput of HCS is lower than that of HTS but the use of state-of-the-art imaging methods makes the result even richer. Thousands of cells are simultaneously “observed with automatic eyes” and automatically controlled as if they were “little patients”. High Content Screening carried out in the ADSI is intended to help the pharmaceutical industry to select the right candidates for whom further development is really worthwhile, in order to reduce the failure rate in drug development and thus the costs. In addition, the toxicity tests developed in ADSI help to detect side effects in advance.
ADSI is committed to developing better assays that reproduce the diseases under study as realistically as possible and produce clinically relevant test results. On the other hand, the technologies available in ADSI are not only able to promote the development of chemically-synthetic active substances, but also the development of plant extracts for a more effective and gentle treatment of complex diseases.