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The binding affinity and kinetics of target engagement are fundamental to establishing structure-activity relationships (SARs) for prospective therapeutic agents. Enhancing these binding parameters for operative targets, while minimizing binding to off-target sites, can translate to improved drug efficacy and a widened therapeutic window. Compound activity is typically assessed through modulation of an observed phenotype in cultured cells. Quantifying the corresponding binding properties under common cellular conditions can provide more meaningful interpretation of the cellular SAR analysis. Consequently, methods for assessing drug binding in living cells have advanced and are now integral to medicinal chemistry workflows. In this review, we survey key technological advancements that support quantitative assessments of target occupancy in cultured cells, emphasizing generalizable methodologies able to deliver analytical precision that heretofore required reductionist biochemical approaches. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Biochemistry, Volume 89 is June 22, 2020. Please see for revised estimates.

Original publication




Journal article


Annual review of biochemistry

Publication Date



Promega Corporation, Madison, Wisconsin 53711, USA; email:,,