High impact technologies for natural products screening

  • Frank E. Koehn
Part of the Progress in Drug Research book series (PDR, volume 65)


Natural products have historically been a rich source of lead molecules in drug discovery. However, natural products have been de-emphasized as high throughput screening resources in the recent past, in part because of difficulties in obtaining high quality natural products screening libraries, or in applying modern screening assays to these libraries. In addition, natural products programs based on screening of extract libraries, bioassay-guided isolation, structure elucidation and subsequent production scale-up are challenged to meet the rapid cycle times that are characteristic of the modern HTS approach. Fortunately, new technologies in mass spectrometry, NMR and other spectroscopic techniques can greatly facilitate the first components of the process — namely the efficient creation of high-quality natural products libraries, bimolecular target or cell-based screening, and early hit characterization.

The success of any high throughput screening campaign is dependent on the quality of the chemical library. The construction and maintenance of a high quality natural products library, whether based on microbial, plant, marine or other sources is a costly endeavor. The library itself may be composed of samples that are themselves mixtures — such as crude extracts, semi-pure mixtures or single purified natural products. Each of these library designs carries with it distinctive advantages and disadvantages. Crude extract libraries have lower resource requirements for sample preparation, but high requirements for identification of the bioactive constituents. Pre-fractionated libraries can be an effective strategy to alleviate interferences encountered with crude libraries, and may shorten the time needed to identify the active principle. Purified natural product libraries require substantial resources for preparation, but offer the advantage that the hit detection process is reduced to that of synthetic single component libraries. Whether the natural products library consists of crude or partially fractionated mixtures, the library contents should be profiled to identify the known components present — a process known as dereplication. The use of mass spectrometry and HPLC-mass spectrometry together with spectral databases is a powerful tool in the chemometric profiling of bio-sources for natural product production. High throughput, high sensitivity flow NMR is an emerging tool in this area as well. Whether by cell based or biomolecular target based assays, screening of natural product extract libraries continues to furnish novel lead molecules for further drug development, despite challenges in the analysis and prioritization of natural products hits.

Spectroscopic techniques are now being used to directly screen natural product and synthetic libraries. Mass spectrometry in the form of methods such as ESI-ICRFTMS, and FACS-MS as well as NMR methods such as SAR by NMR and STD-NMR have been utilized to effectively screen molecular libraries. Overall, emerging advances in mass spectrometry, NMR and other technologies are making it possible to overcome the challenges encountered in screening natural products libraries in today’s drug discovery environment. As we apply these technologies and develop them even further, we can look forward to increased impact of natural products in the HTS based drug discovery.


Natural Product Saturation Transfer Difference Curr Opin Chem Biol Natural Product Extract Natural Product Library 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel (Switzerland) 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frank E. Koehn
    • 1
  1. 1.Natural Products Discovery Research — Chemical and Screening SciencesWyeth ResearchPearl RiverUSA

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