A new paper in Cellular systems explores the importance of using multiple types of data in drug discovery. The article examines over 1,000 drugs tested in six doses and demonstrates that gene expression and cell morphology provide different information for drug prioritization.

Led by biomedical data specialist Gregory Way, PhD, MS, the study shows that by using these two types of data simultaneously, scientists can measure fundamentally different aspects of drug biology.

“We believe that these two popular methods can be used to our advantage in designing drugs that address the full complexity of biology,” said Way, who is an assistant professor of biomedical informatics at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

Way and a team of data scientists found that the two types of data provide a partially shared but also complementary view of drug mechanisms. They said using both approaches can advance drug discovery, functional genomics and precision medicine in unique directions.

Harnessing the Multifaceted Effects of Drugs

“While labeling drugs by mechanism of action is incredibly powerful, the approach risks missing the big picture. Both types of data, collected through phenotypic drug screening, encompass the complexity of the biology and can enable scientists to study and exploit the multifaceted effects that drugs can offer,” adds Way.

Their paper shows how the assays compare to each other on useful biological tasks (eg, prediction of mechanism of action) considering all sources of variation/noise and current best practices in data handling. The phenotypic drug screening approach allows researchers to measure thousands of characteristics of thousands of different drugs in a single experiment.

“We hope our analysis can guide researchers in experimental design and in understanding the limitations of their particular profiling modality to provide more consistent measurements and maximize the potential for drug discovery success,” Way said. .

The paper, which was published today, guides scientists in planning experiments that profile cells to reverse disease phenotypes, quantify cellular response to chemical or genetic perturbations, and interrogate drug mechanisms.