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Can aptamers improve tests for drugs of abuse?

Drugs of abuse tests require highly selective, robust assays. Aptamers are helping to deliver new assays for more sensitive and simpler tests.

According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report 2022 the past decade has seen a 26% increase in worldwide drug use. The increasing incidence of drug use and the move to legalise and decriminalise use of some drugs like cannabis is driving demand for robust and sensitive assays that can support testing.

Data derived from UNODC World Drug Report 2022

Drugs of abuse include illegal drugs as well as prescription medications taken for non-medical reasons. The concentrations of these drugs in biological matrices (saliva, blood, urine, etc.) are low, requiring very sensitive, selective, and appropriate methods for their detection and quantification.

New formats for drugs of abuse tests

Today the most common methods for accurate drugs of abuse assay, similar to many small molecules, rely on standard chromatographic techniques (eg gas chromatography, liquid chromatography and high-performance liquid chromatography). These are followed by UV, electrochemical or fluorescent-based quantification.

To simplify detection and reduce costs, new tests for drugs of abuse are being developed every year that allow point-of-need testing and results. These test formats include handheld biosensor, lateral flow and chromatographic methods and so rely on affinity reagents. The goal of these drugs of abuse tests is to overcome the reliance on specialised labs and offer rapid results that can be immediately acted on.

Simpler affinity-based assay formats are allowing faster & cheaper testing for drugs of abuse.

With simpler testing formats, drugs of abuse testing is increasingly being used in a variety of situations, from sports and workplace testing to clinical and development laboratories. There are newer rapid tests coming to market that can be used at the point of need in situations like bars and nightclubs.

What is needed in new assays for drugs of abuse?

For new drugs of abuse tests, along with the requirement for point-of-need testing ability, we are seeing increased requirements for improved selectivity and assay robustness.

Many partners working within the drug testing space are indicating the need for high levels of selectivity to be able to effectively discriminate between the parent drug and its metabolites. This can allow improved assay sensitivity.

Optimer offer the perfect solution for these hard-to-target small antigens, with a discovery process tuned specifically for small molecules, offering increased potential for success over a one-size-fits-all discovery approach. Alternative affinity reagents, like antibodies, which work best with larger epitopes to bind to, are often unable to provide the level of selectivity required to discriminate between these small molecule antigens.

Optimer® binders wrap around small molecule targets to act as selective reagents for drugs of abuse testing.

A further requirement for drugs of abuse tests is stability. Drug test developers want to be able to ship these assays globally without loss of performance and the need for expensive cold chain supply. As aptamers have been repeatedly shown to be highly stable for improved global logistics and have long shelf lives with no loss of performance, they can help meet the needs of developers in delivering advanced tests for drugs of abuse globally.

The right reagent for drugs of abuse tests

Aptamers offer an ideal reagent for drugs of abuse testing. Aptamers can be developed to bind to a specific drug target for detection and quantification purposes, and bring additional benefits of:

  • Stability for simple global logistics without the need for cold chain logistics
  • Security of supply with a known aptamer sequence able to be manufactured by multiple suppliers
  • The highest batch consistency for reproducible and robust data with reduced waste in the product lifecycle
  • Reduced cost of goods for aptamer manufacture compared to antibodies or alternatives protein-based affinity reagents

Over and above typical aptamers, the Optimer platform includes a discovery process specifically tuned for small molecule targets. This optimised approach for your target type increases the potential for success in discovery compared to standard one-size-fits-all discovery processes.

At Aptamer Group we have experience in developing custom reagents to drug targets, including drugs of abuse, to help deliver better tests. Get in touch to find out how we can help remove the limits of your science.

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