Highlights from Discovery on Target 2019

Sudhir Deosarkar, PhD, Pharma/Biotech Consultant; formerly Senior Scientist, Innovative New Medicines, Drug Safety and Metabolism, AstraZeneca

About 1,100 scientists and business representatives from global pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and academic institutions gathered in Boston from September 16th through 19th for the annual Discovery on Target conference. The conference attendees shared posters and podium presentations on various emerging topics in small and large molecule drug discovery and the underlying biology and covered specialized topics ranging from target identification/validation to lead generation to GPCR-based drug discovery to antibody discovery and much more. This conference also covered cutting-edge science on a few new topic areas this year that included emerging targets and therapeutics in immuno-oncology, RNA as a drug target, PROTACs, and fibrosis targeting.

This conference provided opportunities for attendees to network and exchange ideas with peers through speed networking events and breakout discussions on emerging new topics in the fields of drug discovery and translational research. Additionally, the conference had two prominent scientists (Drs. David Liu and Craig Crews) in the fields of gene editing and PROTACs present the most recent and emerging work in their fields of research. This was a great opportunity for peers to learn about the advances in both fields and their future direction.

Discovery on Target offers students, scientists, and business representatives the opportunity to present their emerging work, share ideas, and learn from peers. It continues to be the go-to conference for drug discovery and translational research. The topics presented at this conference were broadly covered under the following major topic categories.

Target identification, validation, and lead generation: There were several poster and podium presentations that focused on target identification, validation, and lead generation for various disease indications including a separate track for NASH targeting. These posters and talks offered novel approaches for the development of small and large molecule therapeutics for challenging diseases with novel targets and novel ways to develop a drug pipeline for a given target or a disease indication.

Antibody discovery: Antibody as a therapeutic molecule, in addition to being a biological reagent, has been gaining substantial momentum in the last decade or so. Antibodies are an excellent choice as a therapeutic target due to their high target affinity but they also pose challenges in their development as a therapeutic drug. Several academic and industry leaders have emerged with unique platforms for developing antibody therapeutics for challenging targets and challenging diseases. Several poster and podium presentations at the 2019 annual conference discussed the challenges but also novelty and opportunity offered by various existing and emerging new antibody platforms. Notable topics presented and discussed in this category included antibody discovery against membrane protein targets, use of different host species, humanization of antibodies, and new challenging molecular targets for antibodies.

Advanced disease models and translational research: Traditional drug discovery and drug development have relied on the use of classical in vitro and in vivo methods in assessing the efficacy and the safety of drug candidates to gain an insight into their potential clinical success. But clinical success of a candidate drug still remains very low. High rate of clinical attrition of drugs has been attributed to the lack of clinically relevant models of disease, organs, and tissues. More advanced physiologically relevant disease models and models of human organs and tissues have been in development in recent years by a consortium of academic and industry members. These models offer immense potential in bridging the gaps that exist within the drug development pipeline. Several talks, posters, and breakout discussions at this conference focused on these advanced disease models and their role in translational research and regulatory decision making.

Novel targets and novel technologies for drug discovery: A set of novel targets and novel technologies for identifying unique targets were also discussed at this conference through various posters and podium presentations. Among the novel target discovery, presenters focused on advances in GPCR-based drug discovery, emerging ubiquitin and autophagy targets, PROTACS and targeted protein degradation, and RNA as a drug target. New technologies such as the use of CRISPR to screen for target and off-target effects, genetics-based drug discovery for better clinical success, integrated lead finding platforms, use of artificial intelligence (AI) in drug discovery, and many more were also presented.

Fragment-based Drug Design Practitioners Event re-cap

Discovery on Target 2019 Quotes

The scientific sessions, attendees to exhibition and networking at Discovery on Target were of fantastic quality. The conference is not massively huge that it becomes too impersonal; one can still learn the latest research and exchange ideas with both industry and academic leaders at a one-on-one level. A must go for those working with membrane targets.

The “casual” way of saying this is that I felt that I was swimming in a pool full of high quality fish (prospects). Every corner that I was turning, there was somebody interested in the technology we offer so we walked out with many good leads.

-- Vice President, Marketing & Business Development, Biosensing Instrument

While Key Organics Inc. is always represented at Discovery on Target - this was my first time – and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of connections I was able to make. It was a well-run conference with ample opportunity to have many thoughtful conversations with scientists interested in our areas of expertise.
-- U.S. Operations Manager, Key Organics Inc.

The Ubiquitin ligase and PROTAC conferences were well run and featured nearly all major players in the field. The talks were informative, and the schedule allowed for lively discussions between researchers across academia and industry and often provided valuable insights. There were several key takeaways that I hope to apply at my own institution.
-- Attendee

As always it was an inspiring and informative conference. Not a bad speaker in sight.
-- CSO, AdAlta

I wanted to thank you for organizing such a wonderful meeting with top leaders and great topics in different forums. I made a lot of new friends and learned a lot. I would love to participate in the future and will be in touch.
-- Senior Research Investigator, Bristol-Myers Squibb

The conference was an excellent assembly of academic and industrial leaders in the field of targeted protein degradation. Representatives from nearly every major player in the area were either presenting data or were in attendance. The “medium size” of the conference and ample opportunities for social interactions enabled numerous useful person-to-person conversations that augmented the highly informative scientific presentations. I left the meeting with many new perspectives of the field as well as with fresh ideas and directions for my own targeted protein degradation research.
-- Principal Scientist, Genentech

It was an excellent meeting and I think it will lead to two new collaborations for me.
-- PhD, Head of Protein Design, Institute for Protein Innovation

I’m really impressed with the Lead Generation Strategies conference. The breadth of topics and quality of speakers is excellent. I’ve been involved with other CHI offerings on the biologics side but I’m so happy to know now of the excellent programming that goes on by CHI in the small molecule space as well. 
-- PhD, Laboratory Head, Encoded Library Technologies, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Chemical Biology & Therapeutics (CBT), Novartis Pharma AG

Overall the session was well organized, and the topics were diverse. I really enjoyed it. As we briefly discussed during the conference, one thing that would be beneficial to all attendees is to include as many real-world stories from drug discovery programs as possible. I think the talks this year covered a lot of examples. It would be nice to keep this trend in the coming meetings.
-- Associate Research Fellow, Pfizer Inc.

The conference has been great and very educational. Discovery on Target brings together industry and academic leaders to share ideas. Event organizers align the program with the most exciting areas of biomedical research each year. You did a fantastic job putting together the program!
-- Associate Member, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital 

I really enjoyed the Fibrosis sessions and WuXi NextCODE talk in the NASH session. I was really impressed with the small molecule RNA drug discovery session as so many Pharmas are doing it now. I am looking forward to this area growing. 
-- PhD, General Partner, Trillium Ventures

Very informative and well prepared. Highly recommend to others.
-- Director of HTS, University of Illinois

Not only were all the talks on fragment based drug discovery enlightening to listen to but the best part was participating in the breakout discussion groups! These sessions allowed for individuals with different areas of expertise to exchange ideas and experiences on a common problem in an informal manner. I am looking forward to the next CHI conference!
-- PhD, Post-Doctoral Researcher, Walter Chazin Laboratory, Center for Structural Biology, Vanderbilt University

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