X-ray Free Electron Laser: Opportunities for drug discovery

Cheng R., Abela R., Hennig M.

Past decades have shown the impact of structural information derived from complexes of drug candidates with their protein targets to facilitate the discovery of safe and effective medicines. Despite recent developments in single particle cryo-electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography has been the main method to derive structural information. The unique properties of X-ray free electron laser (XFEL) with unmet peak brilliance and beam focus allow X-ray diffraction data recording and successful structure determination from smaller and weaker diffracting crystals shortening timelines in crystal optimization.

To further capitalize on the XFEL advantage, innovations in crystal sample delivery for the X-ray experiment, data collection and processing methods are required. This development was a key contributor to serial crystallography allowing structure determination at room temperature yielding physiologically more relevant structures. Adding the time resolution provided by the femtosecond X-ray pulse will enable monitoring and capturing of dynamic processes of ligand binding and associated conformational changes with great impact to the design of candidate drug compounds.