Adapting high-throughput screening methods and assays for biocontainment laboratories

Assay Drug Dev Technol. Jan-Feb 2015;13(1):44-54. doi: 10.1089/adt.2014.617.


High-throughput screening (HTS) has been integrated into the drug discovery process, and multiple assay formats have been widely used in many different disease areas but with limited focus on infectious agents. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of HTS campaigns using infectious wild-type pathogens rather than surrogates or biochemical pathogen-derived targets. Concurrently, enhanced emerging pathogen surveillance and increased human mobility have resulted in an increase in the emergence and dissemination of infectious human pathogens with serious public health, economic, and social implications at global levels. Adapting the HTS drug discovery process to biocontainment laboratories to develop new drugs for these previously uncharacterized and highly pathogenic agents is now feasible, but HTS at higher biosafety levels (BSL) presents a number of unique challenges. HTS has been conducted with multiple bacterial and viral pathogens at both BSL-2 and BSL-3, and pilot screens have recently been extended to BSL-4 environments for both Nipah and Ebola viruses. These recent successful efforts demonstrate that HTS can be safely conducted at the highest levels of biological containment. This review outlines the specific issues that must be considered in the execution of an HTS drug discovery program for high-containment pathogens. We present an overview of the requirements for HTS in high-level biocontainment laboratories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay / instrumentation*
  • Containment of Biohazards / instrumentation*
  • Drug Design
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical / instrumentation*
  • Equipment Design
  • Equipment Failure Analysis
  • High-Throughput Screening Assays / instrumentation*
  • Laboratories*
  • Robotics / instrumentation
  • Specimen Handling / instrumentation
  • Technology, Pharmaceutical / instrumentation*