Manchester University researchers led by Professor Douglas Kell used a robotic testing facility to sort through 50 drug combinations at a time.
They combined this with a computer programme able to assess nine billion different combinations of drugs.
This allowed them to find effective combinations and repeatedly refine them in order to find ideal combinations.
Writing online in Nature Chemical Biology, the researchers commented: ‘Evolutionary searches provide a powerful and general approach to the discovery of new combinations of pharmacological agents with therapeutic indices potentially greater than those of single drugs.’
The researchers looked at drug combinations that could be used to cut inflammation, and so reduce damage from stroke, heart attacks and cancer.
But Professor Kell believes the approach will have wider use, because most diseases have complex causes, he said.
‘This makes their analysis a problem of systems biology, and to find novel therapies multiple targets need to be attacked at once,’ he said. ‘We have devised a strategy, based on Darwinian evolution, to make this considerably easier.'