1.2.2. Identifying targets

The development of a new drug is initiated with the identification and the selection of biological receptors (targets) on which that pharmacological compound will perform on. These targets are ordinarily proteins where the compound binds to produce changes in their functions.
Proteins are the workers which perform most of functions in human cells, consequently it makes sense that these are the places where drugs bind to transform their activities, modifying this activity will help to eliminate or, at least, reduce diseases in infected cells.
Genes can be a target for drugs as well, which are in charge of providing instructions about what proteins must be created and what tasks they will fulfil within the cell. These proteins and genes are not always human: it is estimated that around 15-20% of current medicines act on proteins and genes of the pathogen that has invaded our body and caused diseases.

The problem related to many diseases is the fact that hundreds of genes and proteins can be involved in their progression, that is the reason why the selection of the key receptor by the researchers is a fundamental factor.
To carry out this task it is essential to statistically analyse a huge amount of data to be able to choose the most suitable biological target for the chemical compound.

On some occasions, just the binding between a drug and a target is enough to eliminate a disease. For instance, amoxicillin antibiotic binds certain proteins on cell walls of the infectious bacteria, leading to the breakdown of these walls and therefore, the death of these bacteria. However, it is not always so easy, since those bacteria that have developed antibiotic resistance have been able to modify the receptors where drugs perform, losing, in this way, their therapeutic action.
Often, other diseases are really hard to overcome because they are caused by a combination of genetic, environmental factors and lifestyle factors: Alzheimers being one example.
Lastly, at other times, it may be more appropriate to adopt a “multi-target” approach where several drugs are administered to a single receptor, where a single drug performs on multiple targets, or a combination of both techniques.

Source: UTAustinX: UT.4.01x Take Your Medicine - The Impact of Drug Development.

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