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J Med Chem. 2009 Nov 12;52(21):6752-6. doi: 10.1021/jm901241e.

Escape from flatland: increasing saturation as an approach to improving clinical success.

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Wyeth Research, Chemical Sciences, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02140, USA.


The medicinal chemistry community has become increasingly aware of the value of tracking calculated physical properties such as molecular weight, topological polar surface area, rotatable bonds, and hydrogen bond donors and acceptors. We hypothesized that the shift to high-throughput synthetic practices over the past decade may be another factor that may predispose molecules to fail by steering discovery efforts toward achiral, aromatic compounds. We have proposed two simple and interpretable measures of the complexity of molecules prepared as potential drug candidates. The first is carbon bond saturation as defined by fraction sp(3) (Fsp(3)) where Fsp(3) = (number of sp(3) hybridized carbons/total carbon count). The second is simply whether a chiral carbon exists in the molecule. We demonstrate that both complexity (as measured by Fsp(3)) and the presence of chiral centers correlate with success as compounds transition from discovery, through clinical testing, to drugs. In an attempt to explain these observations, we further demonstrate that saturation correlates with solubility, an experimental physical property important to success in the drug discovery setting.

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