A recipe for drug variation: Just add sugar

We know that sugar has the potential to sweeten drug development by altering the behavior of potential and existing drugs, giving pharmacologists a box that contains a wider variety of tools. For example, adding a certain sugar to the anti-coagulant warfarin destroys its anti-clotting ability, yet gives it the ability to kill cells. The problem is that many sugars are difficult to create and manipulate. So, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy have been working on recipes that make it easier to add sugar.

In a study published in Nature Chemical Biology, researchers Jon Thorson, Richard Gantt and Pauline Peltier-Pain describe a new, simpler method of separating sugars from a carrier molecule and attaching them to a drug. The technique also allows for a handy color change among the molecules that have accepted the sugar to help researchers separate what works and what does not. "One can put 1,000 drug varieties on a plate and tell by color how many of them have received the added sugar," Thorson says in a release.

He says that making it easier to attach sugars will give researchers new insight into how these reactions can translate into new or improved drugs. "By simplifying the attachment, we are improving the pharmacologist's toolbox," Thorson says. "This study provides access to new reagents and offers a very convenient screening for new catalysts and/or new drugs, and for other things we haven't yet thought of. We believe this is going to open up a lot of doors."

- read more in the University of Wisconsin-Madison release
- and check out the abstract in Nature Chemical Biology