The increased sequencing of pathogen genomes and the subsequent availability of genome-scale functional datasets are expected to guide the experimental work necessary for target-based drug discovery. However, a major bottleneck in this has been the difficulty of capturing and integrating relevant information in an easily accessible format for identifying and prioritizing potential targets. The open-access resource TDRtargets.org facilitates drug target prioritization for major tropical disease pathogens such as the mycobacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis; the kinetoplastid protozoans Leishmania major, Trypanosoma brucei, and Trypanosoma cruzi; the apicomplexan protozoans Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, and Toxoplasma gondii; and the helminths Brugia malayi and Schistosoma mansoni.
Here we present strategies to prioritize pathogen proteins based on whether their properties meet criteria considered desirable in a drug target. These criteria are based upon both sequence-derived information (e.g., molecular mass) and functional data on expression, essentiality, phenotypes, metabolic pathways, assayability, and druggability. This approach also highlights the fact that data for many relevant criteria are lacking in less-studied pathogens (e.g., helminths), and we demonstrate how this can be partially overcome by mapping data from homologous genes in well-studied organisms. We also show how individual users can easily upload external datasets and integrate them with existing data in TDRtargets.org to generate highly customized ranked lists of potential targets.
Using the datasets and the tools available in TDRtargets.org, we have generated illustrative lists of potential drug targets in seven tropical disease pathogens. While these lists are broadly consistent with the research community's current interest in certain specific proteins, and suggest novel target candidates that may merit further study, the lists can easily be modified in a user-specific manner, either by adjusting the weights for chosen criteria or by changing the criteria that are included.
In cell-based drug development, researchers attempt to create drugs that kill a pathogen without necessarily understanding the details of how the drugs work. In contrast, target-based drug development entails the search for compounds that act on a specific intracellular target—often a protein known or suspected to be required for survival of the pathogen. The latter approach to drug development has been facilitated greatly by the sequencing of many pathogen genomes and the incorporation of genome data into user-friendly databases. The present paper shows how the database TDRtargets.org can identify proteins that might be considered good drug targets for diseases such as African sleeping sickness, Chagas disease, parasitic worm infections, tuberculosis, and malaria. These proteins may score highly in searches of the database because they are dissimilar to human proteins, are structurally similar to other “druggable” proteins, have functions that are easy to measure, and/or fulfill other criteria. Researchers can use the lists of high-scoring proteins as a basis for deciding which potential drug targets to pursue experimentally.