A Growing New Wave in DNA-Encoded Libraries: A Great Time to be in DEL

Becoming a consultant after leaving ZebiAI at the end of March, I have had the opportunity to reach out beyond my roots at X-Chem/ZebiAI, where I headed up informatics, data science and IT over the past decade. My conclusion: It is a great time to be in DEL!

Over the last decade, I have watched the field expand with pharma and biotech investing in DEL discovery by either partnering with providers to run hit generating campaigns (X-Chem alone has licensed more than 90 programs in that time) or by building their own internal capabilities. Recently, beyond this steady growth, a new wave of interest and innovation has begun to drive the technology further towards realizing the even greater promise that DEL has always held in my mind.

As an assignment to myself while I build my consulting practice, I have made it a goal to reach out to a wide range of companies that are strategically using DEL for drug discovery. Far from exhaustive, my current list of organizations to contact is nearing 100 and counting. In the last four months, I have had conversations with 30+ companies with significant DEL efforts (ranging across startups, newcomers to DEL, and veteran practitioners). I have spoken with a dozen CEOs, multiple VCs, and numerous DEL function heads. A common theme in the community is the potential of DEL to move beyond hit-finding into new, uncharted territory of DEL-driven optimization using novel approaches like machine-learning (predictive-DEL), combining DEL with emerging computational and wet lab technologies, and alternative DEL approaches (e.g. bead-based synthesis, in situ DEL sequencing, and fragment discovery). This growing interest and innovation is mirrored by an acceleration in DEL news that includes multiple acquisitions, research papers and startup announcements.

A frequently expressed concern is DEL access. Everyone wants more data and the capabilities to capitalize on that data to rapidly discover drug-like, potent chemical starting points. Poised to drive a further economic shift in early drug discovery efforts, new DEL approaches enable efficient exploration of readily accessible chemistry with in vitro data reaching chemical space far beyond any rival technology. For DEL practitioners and the increasing number of companies that are building DEL strategies, the challenge is how to drive this incredible potential in a way that benefits both DEL-providers and DEL-consumers and ultimately drives the pharma/biotech industry towards the real goal of improving human health.