Fragment-based screening is an emerging technology which is used as an alternative to high-throughput screening (HTS), and often in parallel. Fragment screening focuses on very small compounds. Because of their small size and simplicity, fragments exhibit a low to medium binding affinity (mM to μM) and must therefore be screened at high concentration in order to detect binding events. Since some issues are associated with high-concentration screening in biochemical assays, biophysical methods are generally employed in fragment screening campaigns. Moreover, these techniques are very sensitive and some of them can give precise information about the binding mode of fragments, which facilitates the mandatory hit-to-lead optimization. One of the main advantages of fragment-based screening is that fragment hits generally exhibit a strong binding with respect to their size, and their subsequent optimization should lead to compounds with better pharmacokinetic properties compared to molecules evolved from HTS hits. In other words, fragments are interesting starting points for drug discovery projects. Besides, the chemical space of low-complexity compounds is very limited in comparison to that of drug-like molecules, and thus easier to explore with a screening library of limited size. Furthermore, the “combinatorial explosion” effect ensures that the resulting combinations of interlinked binding fragments may cover a significant part of “drug-like” chemical space. In parallel to experimental screening, virtual screening techniques, dedicated to fragments or wider compounds, are gaining momentum in order to further reduce the number of compounds to test. This article is a review of the latest news in both experimental and in silico virtual screening in the fragment-based discovery field. Given the specificity of this journal, special attention will be given to fragment library design.
Keywords: Biophysical screening, computational chemistry, fragment-based drug design, fragment-based drug discovery, library design, high-throughput screening, combinatorial explosion, chemical tractability, diversity, solubility, highaffinity ligands