Metrics (such as ligand efficiency) and rules (such as the rule of three) seem to be some of the more controversial topics around here. If you aren’t experiencing metric-fatigue, it’s worth checking out a recent (and free!) “Ask the Experts” feature at Future Med. Chem., in which four prominent scientists weigh in on the utility of the rules of five and three.
Monash University’s Jonathan Baell (of PAINS fame) notes that, as of early 2013, the original 1997 Lipinski et. al. rule of five paper (and the 2001 reprint) had been cited more than 4600 times! Baell holds that, of the properties covered by the rules – molecular weight, lipophilicity, number of hydrogen-bond donors (HBD), and number of hydrogen-bond acceptors (HBA) – the property lipophilicity is probably the most important. Although he agrees that rules can be too strictly applied, he also asks:
What sum value is represented by the dead-end investment that the world never saw because of application of a Ro5 mentality?
I think this is a good, often-overlooked point. It is easy to find examples of drugs that violate the rule of five or programs that were killed by rule-bound managers with limited vision, but, as GlaxoSmithKline’s Paul Leeson says, “there is massive unexplored chemical space within the Ro5, which is available to innovative chemists.” Why not put much of the focus here?
Of course, readers of Practical Fragments are probably thinking as much about the rule of three as the rule of five, and one of the main criticisms of that rule, particularly by Pete Kenny, has been the fact that it is not clear how to define hydrogen-bond acceptors: do you count all nitrogen and oxygen atoms, including for example an amide –NH? I think the common-sense answer would be no, and Miles Congreve, the first author on the original rule of three paper, seems to agree. He also notes that the number of hydrogen bond acceptors seems to be less important in general than the number of hydrogen bond donors, which is negatively correlated with solubility, permeability, and bioavailability.
Given last year’s poll on the maximum size of fragments people allow in their libraries, it looks like most people are already capping molecular weight well below 300 Da, which skews the other parameters toward rule of three space. That said, Congreve does warn that commercial fragment libraries “contain too many compounds that are close to 300 Da, rather than containing a distribution of compounds in the range of 100 – 300 Da,” a statement borne out by by Chris Swain’s analyses. Of course, the larger you get, the more possibilities there are, and the optimal property distribution of a fragment library is still a matter of debate.
Ultimately I think many people will agree with Leeson, who says that “there are probably sufficient metrics in the literature today,” and with Celerino Abad-Zapatero, who notes that “additional rules will not be the answer in the long run.” On this note I promise no more posts on metrics or rules – for at least a month!