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Expert Opin Drug Discov. 2012 Apr;7(4):299-314. doi: 10.1517/17460441.2012.666235. Epub 2012 Mar 8.

Thermodynamic studies for drug design and screening.

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Biophysics Core Facility, University of Louisville, James Graham Brown Cancer Center, Clinical and Translational Research Building, 505 South Hancock Street, Louisville, KY 40202, USA.



A key part of drug design and development is the optimization of molecular interactions between an engineered drug candidate and its binding target. Thermodynamic characterization provides information about the balance of energetic forces driving binding interactions and is essential for understanding and optimizing molecular interactions.


This review discusses the information that can be obtained from thermodynamic measurements and how this can be applied to the drug development process. Current approaches for the measurement and optimization of thermodynamic parameters are presented, specifically higher throughput and calorimetric methods. Relevant literature for this review was identified in part by bibliographic searches for the period 2004 - 2011 using the Science Citation Index and PUBMED and the keywords listed below.


The most effective drug design and development platform comes from an integrated process utilizing all available information from structural, thermodynamic and biological studies. Continuing evolution in our understanding of the energetic basis of molecular interactions and advances in thermodynamic methods for widespread application are essential to realize the goal of thermodynamically driven drug design. Comprehensive thermodynamic evaluation is vital early in the drug development process to speed drug development toward an optimal energetic interaction profile while retaining good pharmacological properties. Practical thermodynamic approaches, such as enthalpic optimization, thermodynamic optimization plots and the enthalpic efficiency index, have now matured to provide proven utility in the design process. Improved throughput in calorimetric methods remains essential for even greater integration of thermodynamics into drug design.

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