Streamlining bioactive molecular discovery through integration and automation

Shiao Chow, Samuel Liver, Adam Nelson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The discovery of bioactive small molecules is generally driven via iterative design–make–purify–test cycles. Automation is routinely harnessed at individual stages of these cycles to increase the productivity of drug discovery. Here, we describe recent progress to automate and integrate two or more adjacent stages within discovery workflows. Examples of such technologies include microfluidics, liquid-handling robotics and affinity-selection mass spectrometry. The value of integrated technologies is illustrated in the context of specific case studies in which modulators of targets, such as protein kinases, nuclear hormone receptors and protein–protein interactions, were discovered. We note that to maximize impact on the productivity of discovery, each of the integrated stages would need to have both high and matched throughput. We also consider the longer-term goal of realizing the fully autonomous discovery of bioactive small molecules through the integration and automation of all stages of discovery.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)174-183
Number of pages10
JournalNature Reviews Chemistry
Issue number8
Early online date27 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


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