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TSRI Services Come Together for Efficient Drug-Discovery Research

By Madeline McCurry-Schmidt

The Scripps Center for Metabolomics and Mass Spectrometry and the Mouse Behavioral Assessment Core on the California campus of The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) are teaming up to streamline drug-discovery research.

These two research services will provide pharmacokinetic (PK) analysis, a process that uses mass spectrometry to analyze drug candidates in animal models in order to investigate the physiological response to these compounds. The new PK service can be used to analyze drug candidates related to any condition including, but not limited to, cancer, neurological diseases and pain.

Bill Webb, a research assistant at TSRI, will lead the mass spectrometry side of the PK service. He believes the new team effort will simplify the drug-discovery process for researchers at Scripps and throughout the biomedical community. “It’s a streamlined situation for researchers since they can now talk to us directly to work out the experimental conditions—from dosing to data acquisition,” said Webb.

“Somebody can come to us with the drug candidate they’ve developed, and we can do the experiment and the analysis and send them back the numbers,” said Amanda Roberts, director of the Mouse Behavioral Assessment Core and associate professor of Molecular & Cellular Neurosciences at TSRI.

Webb and Roberts, who have a combined 34 years of experience at TSRI, say the PK service is also a good way for researchers to make the most of their funding. By sending samples for PK analysis, researchers won’t have to raise their own animal models or buy new equipment.

“It’s a huge savings,” said Roberts.

Outlet measures from the service include half-life, maximal concentration, volume of distribution, bioavailability and the generation of metabolic products.

Taking It to the Next Step

The PK service is unusual in combining two crucial steps in the drug discovery process.

When a researcher brings a drug candidate to Roberts’ Mouse Behavioral Assessment Core, her team will test it in mice and/or rats to see if the drug has a promising profile—for example, whether an anti-Alzheimer’s disease drug candidate gets into the brain.

In addition to oral, intravenous and other modes of drug administration and classical blood and tissue sampling, the core can do both venous and arterial blood draws and collect cerebral spinal fluid for testing—aspects of the service Roberts believes are unique.

At the same time, Webb and his colleagues at the Scripps Center for Metabolomics and Mass Spectrometry can use state-of-the-art equipment to identify and measure the small molecule drugs.

The mass spectrometry staff also provide metabolomic analysis to investigate what effect the drug candidate has on the metabolism of the organism. In addition they have developed a novel tissue imaging approach to identify the location of drugs and metabolites. “We can facilitate research on many different levels, from PK to metabolomics to tissue imaging,” Webb said.

Similarly, Roberts said that if a drug candidate seems promising, her core can help with follow-up experiments—providing initial investigation of a drug’s potential for efficacy using preclinical animal models. For example, they can test a compound in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease or obesity. “We can take it to the next step,” she said.

She noted that, especially in the current climate of stagnant basic research funding, the new PK service should help TSRI researchers strengthen grant proposals. “They don’t have to go outside to get good PK work,” she said. “We’ve got it here, and we’re willing to work with the individual and really get the right experiment done.”

Anyone interested in the service should contact Roberts at

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“Somebody can come to us with the drug candidate they’ve developed, and we can do the experiment and the analysis and send them back the numbers,” said Amanda Roberts (center) of the Mouse Behavioral Assessment Core, who is collaborating with Bill Webb (left) and Minerva Tran of the Scripps Center for Metabolomics and Mass Spectrometry to offer the new pharmacokinetic service. (Photo by Cindy Brauer.)