16 July 2018

Rise of the machines for fragment optimization

Our latest poll (please vote on the right-hand side of the page!) is about fragment libraries. Once you have your library, you can screen it using a variety of approaches. But what do you do once you get hits? Computational methods are increasingly being adopted; just this year we’ve discussed two approaches: growing via merging and AutoCouple. A new paper in J. Med. Chem. by Philippe Roche, Xavier Morelli, and collaborators at Aix-Marseille University and several other institutions describes a method that combines virtual screening with automated real-world synthesis in a platform called diversity-oriented target-focused synthesis (DOTS).

The process is best described with an example, and the test case presented is the first bromodomain of BRD4, BRD4(BD1). The researchers, who had previously identified a xanthine-containing series of inhibitors, pared this back to fragment-sized compound F1. Crystallography revealed a nearby pocket, which the researchers attempted to target with DOTS.

The researchers built a virtual library of 576 sulfonamides extending off the para position of the phenyl ring of compound F1. These were then virtually screened against BRD4(BD1) using the S4MPLE molecular modeling tool in which the F1 portion was constrained in the crystallographically observed conformation while the variable bits were allowed to move. The 100 top-scoring molecules were examined more closely, and 17 representatives were chosen to be synthesized on an automated robotic platform. This was actually a fairly modest set, as the Chemspeed system they used can run up to 96 parallel reactions. The crude products were then tested in a fluorescence assay, and all of them showed improved activities compared to the initial fragment. The majority, such as compound 17, showed high nanomolar inhibition.

The 13 submicromolar compounds were then resynthesized, purified, and validated in thermal shift and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) assays; these orthogonal methods confirmed their activities. The crystal structure of compound 17 bound to BRD4(BD1) was also solved, and this revealed that – as designed – the initial fragment retained its binding mode while the added portion makes new interactions with the protein.

The fact that 14 of the 17 molecules synthesized were at least an order of magnitude more potent than the initial fragment is satisfying, though it is worth noting that bromodomains are not the most difficult targets. Also, all of the new molecules have lower ligand efficiencies than the initial fragment. Still, advances and combinations of computational and robotic approaches will certainly increase the throughput of synthesis and testing, and I expect to see more of these examples.

09 July 2018

Practical Fragments turns ten, and celebrates with a poll on the modern fragment library

Ten years ago today Teddy launched Practical Fragments with a simple question about screening methodologies. More than 660 posts later we've returned to that topic several times, most recently in 2016. But before you can start screening you need a fragment library, which is the subject of our new poll.

Back in 2012 we asked readers the maximum size (in terms of "heavy", or non-hydrogen atoms) they would consider for fragments in their library. The results were mostly consistent with the Rule of 3, so beloved by Teddy that he compared it to a powerful wizard.

There has since been a trend toward smaller fragments, driven in part by empirical findings that smaller fragments have better hit rates, in agreement with molecular complexity theory.

At some point, though, ever smaller fragments will mean lower hit rates: fragments that are too small will bind so weakly they will be difficult to detect. And practical issues arise: organic molecules with just a few non-hydrogen atoms are often volatile.

Therefore, we’re revisiting this question: What is the smallest fragment you would put in your library?

As long as we're on the subject of libraries, how many fragments do you have in your primary screening library, or how many do you screen on a regular basis?

Please vote on the right-hand side of the page. If you have multiple fragment libraries (for example one for crystallographic screening and one for biochemical screening) you can respond for each library; you will need to press "vote" after each answer. Please feel free to leave comments too.

Thanks to all of you for making Practical Fragments a success and for your comments over the years – looking forward to the next decade!

02 July 2018

Fragment events in 2018 and 2019

Hard to believe we're already halfway through the year, but there are still some exciting events ahead, and 2019 is already starting to take shape.

August 19-23: The 256th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, which will be held in Boston, includes a session on "Best practices in fragment-based drug design" on August 20.

September 25-28: CHI's Discovery on Target will also be held in Boston, and there will be lots of presentations of interest to readers of this blog, particularly in the Lead Generation Strategies track. Mary Harner and I will be presenting a FBDD short course over dinner on September 27.

October 7-10: Finally, FBLD 2018 returns to San Diego, where it was born a decade ago. This will mark the seventh in an illustrious series of conferences organized by scientists for scientists. You can read impressions of FBLD 2016FBLD 2014,  FBLD 2012FBLD 2010, and FBLD 2009.

March 20-22: Although not exclusively fragment-focused, the Sixth NovAliX Conference on Biophysics in Drug Discovery will have lots of relevant talks, and will be held in lovely Nice. You can read my impressions of the 2018 event here, last year's Strasbourg event here, and Teddy's impressions of the 2013 event herehere, and here.

March 24-26: The Royal Society of Chemistry's Fragments 2019 will be held in the original Cambridge. This is the seventh in an esteemed conference series that alternates years with the FBLD meetings. You can read impressions of Fragments 2013 and Fragments 2009.

April 8-12: CHI’s Fourteenth Annual Fragment-Based Drug Discovery, the longest-running fragment event, will be held in San Diego. You can read impressions of the 2018 meeting here, last year's meeting here, the 2016 meeting here; the 2015 meeting herehere, and here; the 2014 meeting here and here; the 2013 meeting here and here; the 2012 meeting here; the 2011 meeting here; and 2010 here.

November 20-22: If you can't make it to Nice, NovAliX will also be holding a biophysics meeting for the first time in the lovely city of Kyoto.

Know of anything else? Add it to the comments or let us know!