Kinases are one of the most popular classes of drug targets as they are involved in signal transduction pathways, which are wired through a phosphotransfer cascade and elicit a number of important and essential physiological responses. Kinase specificity has emerged as one of the major issues to be addressed in drug discovery approaches. In most kinases the active site is the ATP binding site and finding suitable hits which maximize the affinity of binding has been traditionally important to obtain the type I inhibitors. While type I inhibitors have effective binding affinity more often than not they encounter side-effects usually associated with specificity. Therefore in recent times it has become indispensable to optimize specificity for developing effective kinase inhibitors. The review presents an overview of kinase drug discovery and the different strategies used to date for the design of kinase leads accounting for their success and failure. A number of strategies exploiting different aspects of kinases like allosteric site, size of the gatekeeper residue, DFG-loop, chemotype selectivity, non-covalent interactions, salt-bridge, solvation, etc. have been explored to circumvent the specificity problem in kinases. The probable hot-spots in kinases having a propensity to bring in specificity have been delineated with special emphasis on the design of type II inhibitors with increased specificity from existing type I using fragment tailoring approach. In this review we illustrate the current strategies by taking p38 MAP kinase as a model and expect that such strategies are general and can be extended to the other members of the kinase family.
Keywords: Kinase specificity, lead design, strategies, DFG-loop, p38 MAP kinase, FBDD.