Ligand deconstruction, in which a larger molecule is dissected into component fragments that are subsequently optimized, can be useful for developing new chemical series. This is nicely illustrated in a paper recently published in J. Med. Chem. by Kenneth Down and colleagues at GlaxoSmithKline.
The researchers were interested in phosphoinositide 3-kinase δ (PI3Kδ), a popular target for a variety of indications from oncology to inflammation. They had already developed GSK2292767 as a clinical candidate, but they wanted a backup with a different chemotype. Crystallography revealed that the indazole moiety was interacting with the hinge region of the protein. Trimming off the top of the molecule (compound 4) led to a loss of both potency and specificity against three related members of the lipid kinase family, not surprising given the fact that indazole is a privileged fragment for kinases in general.
To generate a new series, the researchers sought to replace the indazole hinge binder using modeling and previously published information. Starting with a selection of more than 30 possible hinge binders, they synthesized 324 molecules and found that compound 11 was more potent and ligand efficient than compound 4, as well as reasonably selective against other PI3K isoforms. Growing this fragment-sized molecule led to compound 16, with low nanomolar potency against PI3Kδ, greater than 100-fold selectivity against three related PI3K isoforms and 29 additional kinases, good permeability, and activity in a cellular assay.
The careful observer will note that the dihydropyran hinge binder in compound 11 is shorter than the indazole in compound 4, and indeed crystal structures of compounds 11 and 16 complexed to PI3Kδ revealed that the pyridine sulfonamide fragment is shifted in the active site compared to the original drug molecule, accommodated by various conformational shifts in the protein.
This paper is a good illustration of what has been called fragment-assisted drug discovery. Nowhere in the article do the researchers use the phrase “fragment-based,” though they do refer to the pyridine sulfonamide as a “privileged fragment.” In the end, the proof of practicality is in the chemical matter, so we’ll need to wait until more is revealed about this series.