As the year winds down SARS-CoV-2 continues its relentless drive through Greek letters and the planet. But there is hope: vaccines seem to be holding, for those who have access, and two oral drugs have been granted emergency use authorization by the US FDA, one of which (PF-07321332) is covalent and looks remarkably effective. As is our custom, Practical Fragments ends the year by highlighting conferences and reviews.
Conferences started the year online only (CHI’s Sixteenth Annual Fragment-based Drug Discovery), moved to hybrid (CHI’s Nineteenth Annual Discovery on Target) and sadly returned to virtual (Pacifichem 2021).
This year produced more than twenty FBLD-related reviews, and these are grouped thematically: NMR and crystallography, computational methods, targets, library design, and covalent fragments. The most general is the sixth installment in a series of annual reviews in J. Med. Chem. covering fragment-to-lead success stories from the previous year. Iwan de Esch (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) took the lead (pardon the pun) on the most recent review, which details 21 examples from 2020. In addition to the centerpiece table showing fragment, lead, and key parameters, this open-access paper also includes an analysis on the molecular complexity of fragment hits.
NMR and crystallography
Consistent with its central role in FBLD, several reviews covered NMR. Ben Davis (Vernalis), one of the leading practitioners, discusses fragment screening in Methods Mol. Biol. The chapter is written for a non-specialist, so you won’t see detailed pulse sequences. Instead, Ben provides a very accessible and practical guide covering everything from sample preparation through data analysis and validation.
A more detailed description of solution NMR in drug discovery by Li Shi and Naixia Zhang (Shanghai Institute of Materia and Medica) is published (open access) in Molecules. With 180 references, this review covers considerable ground, including various ligand-detected and protein-detected methods for screening as well as for hit-to-lead and mechanistic studies. The paper also includes a nice summary of in-cell (!) NMR.
The Pacifichem meeting had several talks on fluorine NMR, and speaker Will Pomerantz, together with Caroline Buchholz, has published a thorough, open-access review in RSC Chem. Biol. Will has been a leading developer of protein-observed 19F NMR, so naturally this topic is well-covered, but there is plenty on ligand-observed 19F NMR as well as a good background section and musings on the future of the field.
And if you’re looking for a detailed how-to guide for NMR-based fragment screening, Harald Schwalbe and colleagues describe the platform they’ve built at the Center for Biomolecular Magnetic Resonance (BMRZ) at Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University Frankfurt in J. Vis. Exp. This open-access paper also describes quality control experiments of the iNEXT library, which we’ve discussed here.
Switching gears to crystallography, J. Vis. Exp. carries a paper by Frank von Delft and collaborators describing the XChem platform at the Diamond Light Source. This high-throughput fragment screening platform has delivered a 95% success rate on more than 150 screens, with hit rates varying from 1-30%. In addition to technical details, this open-access article also provides tips on successfully getting your screening proposal through peer review.
XChem has inspired similar efforts at other synchrotrons, including the Fast Fragment and Compound Screening (FFCS) platform at the Swiss Light Source. This is concisely described by May Sharpe and Justyna Wojdyla in Nihon Kessho Gakkaishi (open-access and published in English).
Private companies are also moving into high-throughput crystallography. Debanu Das and collaborators describe the platform at Accelero Biostructures, which is capable of screening ~500 fragments in two days. Screens against three nucleases are described in some detail in an open-access article in Prog. Biophys. Mol. Biol.; these and other components of the DNA damage response are the focus of XPose Therapeutics, Accelero’s sister company.
In addition to the experimental methods reviewed above, a couple papers describe computational approaches. In Drug Disc. Today: Tech., FragNet alum Moira Rachman and collaborators from UCSF, Universitat de Barcelona, and elsewhere focus on “fragment-to-lead tailored in silico design.” This is a nice review of the recent literature and emphasizes the fact that much of the heavy design lifting is still done by medicinal chemists – at least for now.
Predicting the energies of modified fragments has long been a challenge, and one promising approach is free energy perturbation, in which one ligand is “perturbed” into another and the relative energy differences calculated. Barbara Zarzycka and colleagues at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam provide a concise review for aficionados in Drug Disc. Today: Tech.
Three reviews cover applications of FBLD to various target classes. Kinases have been particularly successful, with four of the six approved fragment-derived drugs targeting these enzymes. In Trends Pharm. Sci., Ge-Fei Hao and collaborators, mostly at Central China Normal University, review the state of the art. In addition to background and several case studies, the paper includes a nice table showing structures and summaries of clinical-stage kinase inhibitors.
Epigenetics has been another fruitful area, and in J. Med. Chem. Miguel Vaidergorn, Flavio da Silva Emery (both University of São Paulo) and Ganesan (University of East Anglia) detail the “successful union of epigenetic and fragment based drug discovery (EPIDD + FBDD).” This thorough summary (with 165 structures!) of the literature is particularly detailed when it comes to bromodomains, four inhibitors of which have entered the clinic with the help of fragments. The researchers point out that EPIDD and FBDD both began around the same time, and in fact the oncology drug vorinostat could be described as “a unique case of solvent-based drug discovery.”
RNA has long been a target of FBLD, and in ChemMedChem Mads Clausen (Technical University of Denmark) and collaborators review the state of the art. The various established and emerging methods to find fragment hits are covered in depth, and there is also a nice discussion as to whether RNA-focused fragment libraries will be useful.
Library design and molecular properties
In Expert Opin. Drug Discov. Zenon Konteatis (Agios) asks “what makes a good fragment in fragment-based drug discovery?” His answers provide a concise summary touching on the rule of three, molecular complexity, “three-dimensionality”, and other topics.
The topic of three-dimensional fragments is covered in several other reviews. In Drug Disc. Today: Tech., Iwan de Esch and collaborators at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and University of York assess 25 so-called 3D libraries reported in the literature, mostly since 2015. The researchers manually drew all 897 fragments so they could calculate various properties. While most of the molecules are rule-of-three compliant, just under half could be called 3D by both plane of best fit (PBF) and principal moment of inertia (PMI). PBF and PMI measurements correlated with one another, while Fsp3 correlated with neither measurement, leading to the conclusion that “Fsp3 is a poor measure of 3D shape.”
Shapely or not, sp3-rich fragments are interesting from a diversity point of view, and in Chem. Sci. Max Caplin and Dan Foley (University of Canterbury) discuss synthetic methods for advancing these. This is an excellent open-access review of the recent literature around C-H bond functionalization and well worth reading for the chemists in the audience.
3D fragments are often chiral, and the importance of chirality in drug discovery is the focus of a paper in ACS Med. Chem. Lett. by Ilaria Silvestri and Paul Colbon (University of Liverpool). The researchers note an opportunity for chemical suppliers: only 245 of 9751 heterocyclic building blocks offered by Sigma-Aldrich are chirally pure.
“Library design strategies to accelerate fragment-based drug discovery” is the topic of a Chem. Eur. J. review by Nikolaj Troelsen and Mads Clausen (Technical University of Denmark). The researchers provide a highly accessible overview of different libraries appropriate for different fragment-finding methods, including covalent approaches.
This year saw the approval of sotorasib, the first covalent fragment-derived drug, so it is no surprise that several papers focus on this topic. Sara Buhrlage, Jarrod Marto, and colleagues at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute provide a thorough introduction to “chemoproteomic methods for covalent drug discovery” in Chem. Soc. Rev. The review covers both isolated protein screening as well as proteome-wide methods and includes multiple case studies.
Nir London and colleagues at The Weizmann Institute of Science focus on “covalent fragment screening” in Ann. Rep. Med. Chem. This is an excellent review of the recent literature and also includes an analysis of six commercial covalent fragment libraries.
And finally, in RSC Chem. Biol. (open access), Nathanael Gray and collaborators mostly at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute discuss strategies for “fragment-based covalent ligand discovery”, including computer-aided approaches, as well as target classes and new modalities such as PROTACs. They end by asking whether sotorasib was “a lucky, one-off case” or “a preview of continued and increased impacts that these approaches will have on drug discovery as the improved methods, larger libraries, and increased focus start to bear fruit.”
I’m betting on the latter.
And that’s it for 2021. Thanks for reading, special thanks for commenting, and here’s hoping we’ll be able to meet in person in 2022.