We developed the Pharmacophore Alignment Search Tool (PhAST), a text-based technique for rapid hit and lead structure searching in large compound databases. For each molecule, a two-dimensional graph of potential pharmacophoric points (PPPs) is created, which has an identical topology as the original molecule with implicit hydrogen atoms. Each vertex is coloured by a symbol representing the corresponding PPP. The vertices of the graph are canonically labelled . The symbols associated with the vertices are combined to a so-called PhAST-Sequence beginning with the vertex with the lowest canonical label. Due to the canonical labelling the created PhAST-Sequence is characteristic for each molecule. For similarity assessment, PhAST-Sequences are compared using the sequence identity in their global pairwise alignment . The alignment score lies between 0 (no similarity) and 1 (identical PhAST-Sequences). In order to use global pairwise sequence alignment, a score matrix for pharmacophoric symbols was developed and gap penalties were optimized. PhAST performed comparably and sometimes superior to other similarity search tools (CATS2D , MOE pharmacophore quadruples ) in retrospective virtual screenings using the COBRA  collection of drugs and lead structures. Most importantly, the PhAST alignment technique allows for the computation of significance estimates that help prioritize a virtual hit list.