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Fragment-based drug discovery and protein–protein interactions

Authors Turnbull A, Boyd S, Walse B

Received 7 April 2014

Accepted for publication 20 May 2014

Published 18 September 2014 Volume 2014:4 Pages 13—26


Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single anonymous peer review

Peer reviewer comments 2

Andrew P Turnbull,1 Susan M Boyd,2 Björn Walse3

1CRT Discovery Laboratories, Department of Biological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK; 2IOTA Pharmaceuticals Ltd, Cambridge, UK; 3SARomics Biostructures AB, Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Protein–protein interactions (PPIs) are involved in many biological processes, with an estimated 400,000 PPIs within the human proteome. There is significant interest in exploiting the relatively unexplored potential of these interactions in drug discovery, driven by the need to find new therapeutic targets. Compared with classical drug discovery against targets with well-defined binding sites, developing small-molecule inhibitors against PPIs where the contact surfaces are frequently more extensive and comparatively flat, with most of the binding energy localized in “hot spots”, has proven far more challenging. However, despite the difficulties associated with targeting PPIs, important progress has been made in recent years with fragment-based drug discovery playing a pivotal role in improving their tractability. Computational and empirical approaches can be used to identify hot-spot regions and assess the druggability and ligandability of new targets, whilst fragment screening campaigns can detect low-affinity fragments that either directly or indirectly perturb the PPI. Once fragment hits have been identified and confirmed using biochemical and biophysical approaches, three-dimensional structural data derived from nuclear magnetic resonance or X-ray crystallography can be used to drive medicinal chemistry efforts towards the development of more potent inhibitors. A small-scale comparison presented in this review of “standard” fragments with those targeting PPIs has revealed that the latter tend to be larger, be more lipophilic, and contain more polar (acid/base) functionality, whereas three-dimensional descriptor data indicate that there is little difference in their three-dimensional character. These physiochemical properties can potentially be exploited in the rational design of PPI-specific fragment libraries and correlate well with optimized PPI inhibitors, which tend to have properties outside currently accepted guidelines for drug-likeness. Several examples of small-molecule PPI inhibitors derived from fragment-based drug discovery now exist and are described in this review, including navitoclax, a novel Bcl-2 family inhibitor which has entered Phase II clinical trials in patients with small-cell lung cancer and chronic lymphocytic leukemia.

Keywords: hot spot, druggability, ligandability

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