What Are the Pros and Cons of Rational Drug Design?

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  • Written By: T. Carrier
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 04 February 2020
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A contemporary medical method, rational drug design applies computer technology in matching potential drugs with disease targets. Advocates praise this approach for its convenience, use of technology, and ability to speedily synthesize and deliver complex information. This type of drug design has already delivered successful drug protocols at an accelerated pace from traditional drug creation approaches. Critics, however, argue that rational drug design carries a price tag and level of expertise that excludes many regions. Further, the results are often less reliable than other methods.

Rational drug design involves creating medications that mimic the structure of a harmful substance. These attempted treatments typically involve small molecules that have similar shapes as a molecules found in the body that facilitate disease. Such similarities allow the drug molecule to bind to these substances and either bring out or suppress a response. For example, a scientist may electronically search for substances that activate an important protein or that cause cell suicide.

A primary advantage of rational drug design is significant streamlining of drug discovery. Old methods primarily relied on trial-and-error, testing countless potential substances until one that positively interacted with the test subject was discovered. Using these approaches alone, drug testing often spanned several years. This lengthy amount of time detracted from needed drug availability for numerous illnesses.


One reason why rational drug design is completed so swiftly is because it often makes use of computer technology, which is why it may also be called computer-aided drug design. Software programs allow researchers to view substances and potential targets three-dimensionally. As such, the scientist can test potential reactions without the need for a lengthy laboratory exercise.

Scientists also create databases of potential useful substances and drug targets. This allows individuals to quickly scan through thousands of files and modify searches for specific substances. Electronic storage also allows for information sharing among different organizations.

The technology-heavy nature of this approach can act as a weakness, however. Regions that are not equipped with advanced computer processes are less likely to benefit from rational drug design. A lack of resources may in turn lead to a lack of motivation for study among scientists.

In addition, use of this technology requires researchers and scientists who are well-educated in chemistry, biology, and computer technology. Meeting these rigorous skill set needs may prove difficult in many areas. Financing such methods, both in salaries and in equipment, could present another obstacle.

Another important consideration is the nature of the drug design. While traditional laboratory work can produce quantifiable results, rational drug design only offers estimates and predictions about how a substance will react with another substance. Therefore, repeated testing and diligent screening is still a necessity. As with any electronic program, the chance for error may also be increased.

Despite the drawbacks, the potential for rational drug design is promising for patients most of all. Individuals could gain much more rapid access to new drugs. More diverse treatments can in turn be uncovered and created. Success stories have already been documented in conditions ranging from influenza to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


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