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Mol Biosyst. 2006 Sep;2(9):430-46.

Fragment screening: an introduction.

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GlaxoSmithKline Research and Development, Gunnels Wood Road, Stevenage, Herts, UK.


There are clearly many different philosophies associated with adapting fragment screening into mainstream Drug Discovery Lead Generation strategies. Scientists at Astex, for instance, focus entirely on strategies involving use of X-ray crystallography and NMR. However, AstraZeneca uses a number of different fragment screening strategies. One approach is to screen a 2000 compound fragment set (with close to "lead-like" complexity) at 100 microM in parallel with every HTS such that the data are obtained on the entire screening collection at 10 microM plus the extra samples at 100 microM; this provides valuable compound potency data in a concentration range that is usually unexplored. The fragments are then screen-specific "privileged structures" that can be searched for in the rest of the HTS output and other databases as well as having synthesis follow-up. A typical workflow for a fragment screen within AstraZeneca is shown below (Figure 24) and highlights the desirability (particularly when screening >100 microM) for NMR and X-ray information to validate weak hits and give information on how to optimise them. In this chapter, we have provided an introduction to the theoretical and practical issues associated with the use of fragment methods and lead-likeness. Fragment-based approaches are still in an early stage of development and are just one of many interrelated techniques that are now used to identify novel lead compounds for drug development. Fragment based screening has some advantages, but like every other drug hunting strategy will not be universally applicable. There are in particular some practical challenges associated with fragment screening that relate to the generally lower level of potency that such compounds initially possess. Considerable synthetic effort has to be applied for post-fragment screening to build the sort of potency that would be expected to be found from a traditional HTS. However, if there are no low-hanging fruit in a screening collection to be found by HTS then the use of fragment screening can help find novelty that may lead to a target not being discarded as intractable. As such, the approach offers some significant advantages by providing less complex molecules, which may have better potential for novel drug optimisation and by enabling new chemical space to be more effectively explored. Many literature examples that cover examples of fragment screening approaches are still at the "proof of concept" stage and although delivering inhibitors or ligands, may still prove to be unsuitable when further ADMET and toxicity profiling is done. The next few years should see a maturing of the area, and as our understanding of how the concepts can be best applied, there are likely to be many more examples of attractive, small molecule hits, leads and candidate drugs derived from the approaches described.

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