Preclinical Imaging

Preclinical Imaging – a new way of working to deliver new insights for drug development

Molecular imaging can allow the non-invasive assessment of biological and biochemical processes in living subjects. There are many promising imaging technologies that can be applied to drug development. Technologies, therefore have the potential to enhance our understanding of disease and drug activity during preclinical and clinical drug development, which could assist decisions to select candidates that seem most likely to be successful or to halt the development of drugs that seem likely to ultimately fail. Imaging provides a potential means of approximating the fate of a drug throughout the body (whole body imaging) and over time (dynamic imaging) in a non-invasive manner. 

Positron emission tomography (PET) is the most sensitive and quantitative among existing imaging modalities. In vivo imaging technologies are at the core of advanced preclinical research and in order to aide drug development, it is essential to understand dynamic biological processes, gene expression, enzyme and protein activity, progression and treatment of diseases, biodistribution, pharmacodynamics or pharmacokinetics of new drugs in repeatable and longitudinal studies.

The pressure earlier in the discovery process to quickly eliminate candidates has lead to the adoption of analytical tools for small molecule R&D  offering both label-free characterisation and mapping, along with the ability to measure directly and quantitatively. Researchers want to identify the most promising small molecule leads, and are now using the same techniques that big pharma relies on, such as ultra high throughput compound screening.

In combination with mass spectrometry (MS), Matrix-Assisted Laser Desorption/Ionisation (MALDI) imaging provides investigators with a label-free technique to measure tissue samples, allowing the distribution of proteins, lipids, drugs, or metabolites to be mapped and visualised as an image. MALDI Mass Spec Imaging (MSI) helps developers to understand the spatial distribution and tissue physiology of a candidate drug and related metabolites.

MALDI Imaging can be used for both targeted and untargeted analysis. A typical example of a targeted analysis is the measurement of drug and metabolite distribution in tissue. A representative example of an untargeted analysis is the search for protein, glycan or lipid biomarkers with drug development in both small and large molecules playing a key role in the overall industry goal of delivering better, less expensive therapies more quickly.