According to Hanns model of molecular complexity an increased probability of detection binding to a target protein can be expected when small, low complex molecular fragments are screened with high sensitivity instead of fullsized ligands with lower sensitivity. Analysis of the HTS summary data of Novartis and comparison with NMR screening results obtained on generic fragment libraries indicate this expectation to be true with hitrates of 0.001% - 0.151% observed in the identification of ligands with an IC50 threshold in the micromolar range in an HTS setup and hitrates above or equal to 3% observed in NMR screening of fragments with an affinity threshold in the millimolar range. It is however necessary to keep in mind that the sets of target studied were not identical for both method and the experience in NMR screening is too limited for a final conclusion. The term hitrate as used here reflects only the success rate in the observation of ligand binding event. It must not be confused with the overall success rate of fragment and high throughput screening in the lead finding process, which can be entirely different, since the steps required to follow-up a ligand binding event to a lead are different for both methods. A survey of fragment-based lead discovery case studies given in the literature shows that in approximately half of the cases the initial hit fragment was discovered by screening a generic library, whereas in the other cases some knowledge about an initial ligands or the protein binding site has been used, whereas systematic virtual screening of fragment databases has been only rarely reported. As comparatively high hitrates were obtained, further consideration to optimize the generic fragment screening library were directed to the chemical tractability of the fragment. As several functional groups preferred by chemists for modification and linking of the fragments are also preferentially involved in interactions between the fragments and the target protein, a set of screening fragments was derived from chemical building blocks by masking its linker group by a chemical transformation which can be later on used in the chemical follow-up of the fragment hit. For example primary amines can be masked as acetamides. If the screening fragment is active the related building block can then be used for synthesis of a follow-up library.
Keywords: high throughput screening (hts), molecular libraries, hann complexity model, fragment screening technologies, x-ray structure analysis, nmr screening, combinatorial libraries
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