Proteolysis-targeting chimeras (PROTACs), which induce degradation by recruitment of an E3 ligase to a target protein, are gaining much interest as a new pharmacological modality. However, designing PROTACs is challenging. Formation of a ternary complex between the protein target, the PROTAC and the recruited E3 ligase is considered paramount for successful degradation. A structural model of this ternary complex could in principle inform rational PROTAC design. Unfortunately, only a handful of structures are available for such complexes, necessitating tools for their modeling. We developed a combined protocol for the modeling of a ternary complex induced by a given PROTAC. Our protocol alternates between sampling of the protein-protein interaction space and the PROTAC molecule conformational space. Application of this protocol - PRosettaC - to a benchmark of known PROTAC ternary complexes results in near-native predictions, with often atomic accuracy prediction of the protein chains, as well as the PROTAC binding moieties. It allowed the modeling of a CRBN/BTK complex that recapitulated experimental results for a series of PROTACs. PRosettaC generated models may be used to design PROTACs for new targets, as well as improve PROTACs for existing targets, potentially cutting down time and synthesis efforts. To enable wide access to this protocol we have made it available through a web-server (http://prosettac.weizmann.ac.il/).
KRAS, one of the most prevalent oncogenes and sought-after anticancer targets, has eluded chemists for decades until an irreversible covalent strategy targeting a specific mutation (G12C) paved the way for the first KRAS inhibitors to reach the clinic. MRTX849 is one such clinical candidate with promising initial results in patients harboring the mutation. The impressive optimization story of MRTX849 highlights challenges and solutions in the development of covalent drugs, including the use of an α-fluoroacrylamide electrophile.
PROteolysis Targeting Chimeras (PROTACs) represent an exciting inhibitory modality with many advantages, including sub-stoichiometric degradation of targets. Their scope, though, is still limited to-date by the requirement for a sufficiently potent target binder. A solution that proved useful in tackling challenging targets is the use of electrophiles to allow irreversible binding to the target. However, such binding will negate the catalytic nature of PROTACs. Reversible covalent PROTACs potentially offer the best of both worlds. They possess the potency and selectivity associated with the formation of the covalent bond, while being able to dissociate and regenerate once the protein target is degraded. Using Bruton’s tyrosine kinase (BTK) as a clinically relevant model system, we show efficient covalent degradation by non-covalent, irreversible covalent and reversible covalent PROTACs, with <10 nM DC50’s and >85% degradation. Our data suggests that part of the degradation by our irreversible covalent PROTACs is driven by reversible binding prior to covalent bond formation, while the reversible covalent PROTACs drive degradation primarily by covalent engagement. The PROTACs showed enhanced inhibition of B cell activation compared to Ibrutinib, and exhibit potent degradation of BTK in patients-derived primary chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells. The most potent reversible covalent PROTAC, RC-3, exhibited enhanced selectivity towards BTK compared to non-covalent and irreversible covalent PROTACs. These compounds may pave the way for the design of covalent PROTACs for a wide variety of challenging targets.
Peptidyl-prolyl cis/trans isomerase NIMA-interacting 1 (Pin1) is commonly overexpressed in human cancers, including pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). While Pin1 is dispensable for viability in mice, it is required for activated Ras to induce tumorigenesis, suggesting a role for Pin1 inhibitors in Ras-driven tumors, such as PDAC. We report the development of rationally designed peptide inhibitors that covalently target Cys113, a highly conserved cysteine located in the Pin1 active site. The inhibitors were iteratively optimized for potency, selectivity and cell permeability to give BJP-06-005-3, a versatile tool compound with which to probe Pin1 biology and interrogate its role in cancer. In parallel to inhibitor development, we employed genetic and chemical-genetic strategies to assess the consequences of Pin1 loss in human PDAC cell lines. We demonstrate that Pin1 cooperates with mutant KRAS to promote transformation in PDAC, and that Pin1 inhibition impairs cell viability over time in PDAC cell lines.
Bruton's tyrosine kinase (BTK) is a major drug target for B-cell related malignancies; however, existing BTK inhibitors approved for cancer treatment have significant off-targets that limit their use for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Remibrutinib (LOU064) is a novel covalent BTK inhibitor that binds an inactive BTK conformation, which affords it unprecedented selectivity. Its optimization led to rapid BTK engagement in vivo and fast clearance, further limiting systemic exposure. Remibrutinib is currently in phase 2 clinical trials for treatment of chronic urticaria and Sjoegren's syndrome.