Frontiers in Bioscience-Landmark (FBL) is published by IMR Press from Volume 26 Issue 5 (2021). Previous articles were published by another publisher on a subscription basis, and they are hosted by IMR Press on imrpress.com as a courtesy and upon agreement with Frontiers in Bioscience.
As new lead discovery technologies of high throughput screening and rational drug design have been incorporated into pharmaceutical and biotechnology drug discovery programs, researchers have focused on the applying these new technologies in diseases traditionally neglected by for-profit drug discovery efforts. This article reviews general trends in orphan disease lead discovery, identifies best practices of orphan market drug discovery and provides an overview of recent ALS lead discovery programs and drug development according to these metrics. Best practices in orphan market drug discovery embodied by programs like the NIH Anticonvulsant Screening Program include the (1) management of timelines and priorities, (2) engagement of for-profit partners, (3) creative application of technology, (4) collaboration, and (5) flexibility. Recent trends in ALS lead discovery have been shaped not only by the predominance of animal models of disease over in vitro models, but also by the successes and best practices of these earlier orphan market drug discovery programs. The ALS Treatment Initiative, the Johns Hopkins Center for ALS Research, the ALS Association, and the ALS Therapy Development Foundation have all initiated lead discovery programs in the past several years which seek to utilize existing experimental models of the disease and challenge assumptions about the linear nature of the lead discovery and development process. The compounds currently in clinical evaluation for ALS were identified as leads from a variety of sources, further reinforcing the transforming effect these new lead discovery programs have had on drug discovery and development in ALS. We conclude our review with an overview of the challenges and opportunities lead discovery in ALS currently faces, ultimately concluding that ALS lead discovery, and indeed orphan market drug discovery in general, would most benefit from more centralized lead discovery management, expanded national access to core facilities for lead discovery, and matrixed simultaneous screening of multiple compounds for multiple neglected diseases.