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Applications of Cryo-EM in small molecule and biologics drug design

Electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) is a powerful technique for the structural characterization of biological macromolecules, enabling high-resolution analysis of targets once inaccessible to structural interrogation. In recent years, pharmaceutical companies have begun to utilize cryo-EM for structure-based drug design. Structural analysis of integral membrane proteins, which comprise a large proportion of druggable targets and pose particular challenges for X-ray crystallography, by cryo-EM has enabled insights into important drug target families such as G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs), ion channels, and solute carrier (SLCs) proteins. Structural characterization of biologics, such as vaccines, viral vectors, and gene therapy agents, has also become significantly more tractable. As a result, cryo-EM has begun to make major impacts in bringing critical therapeutics to market. In this review, we discuss recent instructive examples of impacts from cryo-EM in therapeutics design, focusing largely on its implementation at Pfizer. We also discuss the opportunities afforded by emerging technological advances in cryo-EM, and the prospects for future development of the technique.

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