05 March 2012

Fragment-based drug discovery and X-ray crystallography

I’m holding in my hands a book of this title, edited by Thomas Davies and Marko Hyvönen and published this year as part of Springer’s Topics in Current Chemistry series. I believe this is the fourth book entirely devoted to fragment-based drug discovery, which shows both the vitality and rapid development of the field.

The book starts with an introduction to fragment-based drug discovery by me. If you’re new to the field, this chapter should serve as a self-contained summary.

In the next chapter Thomas Davies and Ian Tickle describe how FBDD is practiced at Astex, paying particular attention to the use of X-ray crystallography. Notably, researchers from this company “do not consider a fragment hit to be ‘validated’ and suitable as a starting point for medicinal chemistry until it has been observed to bind by crystallography.” This chapter also contains a nice analysis of fragment library design and a couple case studies, including the discovery of the clinical-stage CDK2 inhibitor AT7519.

Rod Hubbard and colleagues at Vernalis and the University of York next describe their efforts to discover Hsp90 inhibitors using a combination of virtual and fragment screening. We’ve covered some of this before (here and here), but it’s nice to see the full story.

The next chapter also focuses heavily on a single target: Daniel Wyss and colleagues at Merck describe their success in discovering BACE inhibitors. This chapter also includes an excellent review of NMR methods for finding fragments.

Michael Hennig and colleagues at Roche (Basel) contrast the various biophysical methods used to discover fragments, with a heavy emphasis on SPR. Crystallography is also covered, in particular co-crystallization of fragments with protein. Co-crystallization is more time-consuming than soaking fragments into preformed crystals, so compound prioritization techniques such as SPR are especially useful.

One of the most promising applications of fragment-based methods is tackling tough targets such as protein-protein interactions, the subject of a chapter by Marko Hyvönen and colleagues at the University of Cambridge. The chapter contains a nice discussion of energetics and hot spots as well as a detailed analysis of methods to find fragments which complements some of the other chapters.

Eddy Arnold and colleagues at Rutgers discuss the use of crystallographic fragment screening against two HIV-1 targets, HIV protease and HIV reverse transcriptase (RT). We’ve previously discussed the former here. In the case of RT, fragments were soaked into crystals in the presence of a high affinity inhibitor, effectively blocking its binding site from fragments. More than 30 fragments were identified binding to multiple other sites on the protein – one fragment bound at 11 distinct sites! Interestingly, the fragments were enriched for halogen-containing molecules. Several also had functional activity with respectable ligand efficiencies. The authors also discuss other published fragment work on HIV RT.

Finally, Didier Rognan at the University of Strasbourg discusses computational approaches to library design, binding site determination, and predicting druggability. Fragment docking is extensively covered, along with a discussion of what factors contribute to success. It seems that docking is particularly good at identifying negatively charged, relatively buried fragments that make similar hydrogen bonds as the substrate. De novo ligand design, both the successes and challenges, is also covered.

Like last year’s book, all the chapters in this one are published online, but it is worth getting a bound copy as it is nicely put together, with color figures liberally integrated throughout rather than banished to plates at the back.

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