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1.  Exploring the Trypanosoma brucei Hsp83 Potential as a Target for Structure Guided Drug Design 
Human African trypanosomiasis is a neglected parasitic disease that is fatal if untreated. The current drugs available to eliminate the causative agent Trypanosoma brucei have multiple liabilities, including toxicity, increasing problems due to treatment failure and limited efficacy. There are two approaches to discover novel antimicrobial drugs - whole-cell screening and target-based discovery. In the latter case, there is a need to identify and validate novel drug targets in Trypanosoma parasites. The heat shock proteins (Hsp), while best known as cancer targets with a number of drug candidates in clinical development, are a family of emerging targets for infectious diseases. In this paper, we report the exploration of T. brucei Hsp83 – a homolog of human Hsp90 – as a drug target using multiple biophysical and biochemical techniques. Our approach included the characterization of the chemical sensitivity of the parasitic chaperone against a library of known Hsp90 inhibitors by means of differential scanning fluorimetry (DSF). Several compounds identified by this screening procedure were further studied using isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) and X-ray crystallography, as well as tested in parasite growth inhibitions assays. These experiments led us to the identification of a benzamide derivative compound capable of interacting with TbHsp83 more strongly than with its human homologs and structural rationalization of this selectivity. The results highlight the opportunities created by subtle structural differences to develop new series of compounds to selectively target the Trypanosoma brucei chaperone and effectively kill the sleeping sickness parasite.
Author Summary
Sleeping sickness, or human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), is a deadly neglected disease for which new therapeutic options are badly needed. Current drugs have several liabilities including toxicity and route of administration limiting their efficacy to combat the disease. Our study aimed at validating a potential new drug target against Trypanosoma brucei, its heat shock protein 83 (Hsp83). The chaperone was screened against a repurposed library composed of inhibitors against the human Hsp90. The compounds were assayed in their ability to bind the T. brucei protein and to kill the parasite. Our work has identified selective and high-affinity chemical compounds targeting the parasitic Hsp83. Additionally, structural studies were conducted to explore the observed selectivity of selected inhibitors. Our work has validated T. brucei Hsp83 as a potential target for future drug discovery campaigns. It has also shown the strength of repurposing chemical libraries developed against human proteins, emphasizing the possibility to piggyback current and past drug discovery efforts for other diseases in the search for new drugs against neglected tropical diseases.
doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0002492
PMCID: PMC3798429  PMID: 24147171
2.  From On-Target to Off-Target Activity: Identification and Optimisation of Trypanosoma brucei GSK3 Inhibitors and Their Characterisation as Anti-Trypanosoma brucei Drug Discovery Lead Molecules 
Chemmedchem  2013;8(7):1127-1137.
Human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) is a life-threatening disease with approximately 30 000–40 000 new cases each year. Trypanosoma brucei protein kinase GSK3 short (TbGSK3) is required for parasite growth and survival. Herein we report a screen of a focused kinase library against T. brucei GSK3. From this we identified a series of several highly ligand-efficient TbGSK3 inhibitors. Following the hit validation process, we optimised a series of diaminothiazoles, identifying low-nanomolar inhibitors of TbGSK3 that are potent in vitro inhibitors of T. brucei proliferation. We show that the TbGSK3 pharmacophore overlaps with that of one or more additional molecular targets.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201300072
PMCID: PMC3728731  PMID: 23776181
antiprotozoal agents; GSK3; medicinal chemistry; protein kinases; Trypanosoma brucei
3.  Comparison of a High-Throughput High-Content Intracellular Leishmania donovani Assay with an Axenic Amastigote Assay 
Visceral leishmaniasis is a neglected tropical disease with significant health impact. The current treatments are poor, and there is an urgent need to develop new drugs. Primary screening assays used for drug discovery campaigns have typically used free-living forms of the Leishmania parasite to allow for high-throughput screening. Such screens do not necessarily reflect the physiological situation, as the disease-causing stage of the parasite resides inside human host cells. Assessing the drug sensitivity of intracellular parasites on scale has recently become feasible with the advent of high-content screening methods. We describe here a 384-well microscopy-based intramacrophage Leishmania donovani assay and compare it to an axenic amastigote system. A panel of eight reference compounds was tested in both systems, as well as a human counterscreen cell line, and our findings show that for most clinically used compounds both axenic and intramacrophage assays report very similar results. A set of 15,659 diverse compounds was also screened using both systems. This resulted in the identification of seven new antileishmanial compounds and revealed a high false-positive rate for the axenic assay. We conclude that the intramacrophage assay is more suited as a primary hit-discovery platform than the current form of axenic assay, and we discuss how modifications to the axenic assay may render it more suitable for hit-discovery.
doi:10.1128/AAC.02398-12
PMCID: PMC3697379  PMID: 23571538
4.  Quinol derivatives as potential trypanocidal agents 
Bioorganic & Medicinal Chemistry  2012;20(4):1607-1615.
Graphical abstract
Quinols have been developed as a class of potential anti-cancer compounds. They are thought to act as double Michael acceptors, forming two covalent bonds to their target protein(s). Quinols have also been shown to have activity against the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, the causative organism of human African trypanosomiasis, but they demonstrated little selectivity over mammalian MRC5 cells in a counter-screen. In this paper, we report screening of further examples of quinols against T. brucei. We were able to derive an SAR, but the compounds demonstrated little selectivity over MRC5 cells. In an approach to increase selectivity, we attached melamine and benzamidine motifs to the quinols, because these moieties are known to be selectively concentrated in the parasite by transporter proteins. In general these transporter motif-containing analogues showed increased selectivity; however they also showed reduced levels of potency against T. brucei.
doi:10.1016/j.bmc.2011.12.018
PMCID: PMC3281193  PMID: 22264753
Inhibitors; Medicinal chemistry; Trypanosoma brucei; P2 transporter; Quinols
5.  Discovery of a Novel Class of Orally Active Trypanocidal N-Myristoyltransferase Inhibitors 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2011;55(1):140-152.
N-Myristoyltransferase (NMT) represents a promising drug target for human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), which is caused by the parasitic protozoa Trypanosoma brucei. We report the optimization of a high throughput screening hit (1) to give a lead molecule DDD85646 (63), which has potent activity against the enzyme (IC50 = 2 nM) and T. brucei (EC50 = 2 nM) in culture. The compound has good oral pharmacokinetics and cures rodent models of peripheral HAT infection. This compound provides an excellent tool for validation of T. brucei NMT as a drug target for HAT as well as a valuable lead for further optimization.
doi:10.1021/jm201091t
PMCID: PMC3256935  PMID: 22148754
6.  Antitumor Quinol PMX464 Is a Cytocidal Anti-trypanosomal Inhibitor Targeting Trypanothione Metabolism* 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2011;286(10):8523-8533.
Better drugs are urgently needed for the treatment of African sleeping sickness. We tested a series of promising anticancer agents belonging to the 4-substituted 4-hydroxycyclohexa-2,5-dienones class (“quinols”) and identified several with potent trypanocidal activity (EC50 < 100 nm). In mammalian cells, quinols are proposed to inhibit the thioredoxin/thioredoxin reductase system, which is absent from trypanosomes. Studies with the prototypical 4-benzothiazole-substituted quinol, PMX464, established that PMX464 is rapidly cytocidal, similar to the arsenical drug, melarsen oxide. Cell lysis by PMX464 was accelerated by addition of sublethal concentrations of glucose oxidase implicating oxidant defenses in the mechanism of action. Whole cells treated with PMX464 showed a loss of trypanothione (T(SH)2), a unique dithiol in trypanosomes, and tryparedoxin peroxidase (TryP), a 2-Cys peroxiredoxin similar to mammalian thioredoxin peroxidase. Enzyme assays revealed that T(SH)2, TryP, and a glutathione peroxidase-like tryparedoxin-dependent peroxidase were inhibited in time- and concentration-dependent manners. The inhibitory activities of various quinol analogues against these targets showed a good correlation with growth inhibition of Trypanosoma brucei. The monothiols glutathione and l-cysteine bound in a 2:1 ratio with PMX464 with Kd values of 6 and 27 μm, respectively, whereas T(SH)2 bound more tightly in a 1:1 ratio with a Kd value of 430 nm. Overexpression of trypanothione synthetase in T. brucei decreased sensitivity to PMX464 indicating that the key metabolite T(SH)2 is a target for quinols. Thus, the quinol pharmacophore represents a novel lead structure for the development of a new drug against African sleeping sickness.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M110.214833
PMCID: PMC3048735  PMID: 21212280
Drug Action; Metabolism; Peroxidase; Thiol; Trypanosome; Quinol; Trypanothione; Tryparedoxin Peroxidase
7.  Target assessment for antiparasitic drug discovery 
Trends in parasitology  2007;23(12):589-595.
Drug discovery is a high-risk, expensive and lengthy process taking at least 12 years and costing upwards of US$500 million per drug to reach the clinic. For neglected diseases, the drug discovery process is driven by medical need and guided by pre-defined target product profiles. Assessment and prioritisation of the most promising targets for entry into screening programmes is crucial for maximising chances of success. Here we describe criteria used in our drug discovery unit for target assessment and introduce the ‘traffic light’ system as a prioritisation and management tool. We hope this brief review will stimulate basic scientists to acquire additional information necessary for drug discovery.
doi:10.1016/j.pt.2007.08.019
PMCID: PMC2979298  PMID: 17962072
8.  Chemical Validation of Trypanothione Synthetase 
The Journal of Biological Chemistry  2009;284(52):36137-36145.
In the search for new therapeutics for the treatment of human African trypanosomiasis, many potential drug targets in Trypanosoma brucei have been validated by genetic means, but very few have been chemically validated. Trypanothione synthetase (TryS; EC 6.3.1.9; spermidine/glutathionylspermidine:glutathione ligase (ADP-forming)) is one such target. To identify novel inhibitors of T. brucei TryS, we developed an in vitro enzyme assay, which was amenable to high throughput screening. The subsequent screen of a diverse compound library resulted in the identification of three novel series of TryS inhibitors. Further chemical exploration resulted in leads with nanomolar potency, which displayed mixed, uncompetitive, and allosteric-type inhibition with respect to spermidine, ATP, and glutathione, respectively. Representatives of all three series inhibited growth of bloodstream T. brucei in vitro. Exposure to one of our lead compounds (DDD86243; 2 × EC50 for 72 h) decreased intracellular trypanothione levels to <10% of wild type. In addition, there was a corresponding 5-fold increase in the precursor metabolite, glutathione, providing strong evidence that DDD86243 was acting on target to inhibit TryS. This was confirmed with wild-type, TryS single knock-out, and TryS-overexpressing cell lines showing expected changes in potency to DDD86243. Taken together, these data provide initial chemical validation of TryS as a drug target in T. brucei.
doi:10.1074/jbc.M109.045336
PMCID: PMC2794729  PMID: 19828449
9.  Investigation of Trypanothione Reductase as a Drug Target in Trypanosoma brucei 
Chemmedchem  2009;4(12):2060-2069.
There is an urgent need for new drugs for the treatment of tropical parasitic diseases such as human African trypanosomiasis, which is caused by Trypanosoma brucei. The enzyme trypanothione reductase (TryR) is a potential drug target within these organisms. Herein we report the screening of a 62000 compound library against T. brucei TryR. Further work was undertaken to optimise potency and selectivity of two novel-compound series arising from the enzymatic and whole parasite screens and mammalian cell counterscreens. Both of these series, containing either a quinoline or pyrimidinopyrazine scaffold, yielded low micromolar inhibitors of the enzyme and growth of the parasite. The challenges of inhibiting TryR with druglike molecules is discussed.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.200900262
PMCID: PMC2855869  PMID: 19924760
human African trypanosomiasis; pyrimidopyridazines; quinolines; trypanosoma brucei; trypanothione reductase
10.  Synthesis and Evaluation of 1-(1-(Benzo[b]thiophen-2-yl)cyclohexyl)piperidine (BTCP) Analogues as Inhibitors of Trypanothione Reductase 
Chemmedchem  2009;4(8):1341-1353.
Thirty two analogues of phencyclidine were synthesised and tested as inhibitors of trypanothione reductase (TryR), a potential drug target in trypanosome and leishmania parasites. The lead compound BTCP (1, 1-(1-benzo[b]thiophen-2-yl-cyclohexyl) piperidine) was found to be a competitive inhibitor of the enzyme (Ki=1 μm) and biologically active against bloodstream T. brucei (EC50=10 μm), but with poor selectivity against mammalian MRC5 cells (EC50=29 μm). Analogues with improved enzymatic and biological activity were obtained. The structure–activity relationships of this novel series are discussed.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.200900098
PMCID: PMC2929374  PMID: 19557802
BTCP; inhibitors; medicinal chemistry; trypanosoma brucei; trypanothione reductase
11.  One Scaffold, Three Binding Modes: Novel and Selective Pteridine Reductase 1 Inhibitors Derived from Fragment Hits Discovered by Virtual Screening† 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2009;52(14):4454-4465.
The enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) is a potential target for new compounds to treat human African trypanosomiasis. A virtual screening campaign for fragments inhibiting PTR1 was carried out. Two novel chemical series were identified containing aminobenzothiazole and aminobenzimidazole scaffolds, respectively. One of the hits (2-amino-6-chloro-benzimidazole) was subjected to crystal structure analysis and a high resolution crystal structure in complex with PTR1 was obtained, confirming the predicted binding mode. However, the crystal structures of two analogues (2-amino-benzimidazole and 1-(3,4-dichloro-benzyl)-2-amino-benzimidazole) in complex with PTR1 revealed two alternative binding modes. In these complexes, previously unobserved protein movements and water-mediated protein−ligand contacts occurred, which prohibited a correct prediction of the binding modes. On the basis of the alternative binding mode of 1-(3,4-dichloro-benzyl)-2-amino-benzimidazole, derivatives were designed and selective PTR1 inhibitors with low nanomolar potency and favorable physicochemical properties were obtained.
doi:10.1021/jm900414x
PMCID: PMC2966039  PMID: 19527033
12.  Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Novel Inhibitors of Trypanosoma brucei Pteridine Reductase 1 
Chemmedchem  2010;6(2):302-308.
Genetic studies indicate that the enzyme pteridine reductase 1 (PTR1) is essential for the survival of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei. Herein, we describe the development and optimisation of a novel series of PTR1 inhibitors, based on benzo[d]imidazol-2-amine derivatives. Data are reported on 33 compounds. This series was initially discovered by a virtual screening campaign (J. Med. Chem., 2009, 52, 4454). The inhibitors adopted an alternative binding mode to those of the natural ligands, biopterin and dihydrobiopterin, and classical inhibitors, such as methotrexate. Using both rational medicinal chemistry and structure-based approaches, we were able to derive compounds with potent activity against T. brucei PTR1 (=7 nm), which had high selectivity over both human and T. brucei dihydrofolate reductase. Unfortunately, these compounds displayed weak activity against the parasites. Kinetic studies and analysis indicate that the main reason for the lack of cell potency is due to the compounds having insufficient potency against the enzyme, which can be seen from the low Km to Ki ratio (Km=25 nm and Ki=2.3 nm, respectively).
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201000450
PMCID: PMC3047710  PMID: 21275054
antiprotozoal agents; drug discovery; pteridine reductase; structure-based drug design; Trypanosoma brucei
13.  Dihydroquinazolines as a Novel Class of Trypanosoma brucei Trypanothione Reductase Inhibitors: Discovery, Synthesis, and Characterization of their Binding Mode by Protein Crystallography 
Journal of Medicinal Chemistry  2011;54(19):6514-6530.
Trypanothione reductase (TryR) is a genetically validated drug target in the parasite Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of human African trypanosomiasis. Here we report the discovery, synthesis, and development of a novel series of TryR inhibitors based on a 3,4-dihydroquinazoline scaffold. In addition, a high resolution crystal structure of TryR, alone and in complex with substrates and inhibitors from this series, is presented. This represents the first report of a high resolution complex between a noncovalent ligand and this enzyme. Structural studies revealed that upon ligand binding the enzyme undergoes a conformational change to create a new subpocket which is occupied by an aryl group on the ligand. Therefore, the inhibitor, in effect, creates its own small binding pocket within the otherwise large, solvent exposed active site. The TryR–ligand structure was subsequently used to guide the synthesis of inhibitors, including analogues that challenged the induced subpocket. This resulted in the development of inhibitors with improved potency against both TryR and T. brucei parasites in a whole cell assay.
doi:10.1021/jm200312v
PMCID: PMC3188286  PMID: 21851087
14.  Target Validation: Linking Target and Chemical Properties to Desired Product Profile 
Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry  2011;11(10):1275-1283.
The discovery of drugs is a lengthy, high-risk and expensive business taking at least 12 years and is estimated to cost upwards of US$800 million for each drug to be successfully approved for clinical use. Much of this cost is driven by the late phase clinical trials and therefore the ability to terminate early those projects destined to fail is paramount to prevent unwanted costs and wasted effort. Although neglected diseases drug discovery is driven more by unmet medical need rather than financial considerations, the need to minimise wasted money and resources is even more vital in this under-funded area. To ensure any drug discovery project is addressing the requirements of the patients and health care providers and delivering a benefit over existing therapies, the ideal attributes of a novel drug needs to be pre-defined by a set of criteria called a target product profile. Using a target product profile the drug discovery process, clinical study design, and compound characteristics can be defined all the way back through to the suitability or druggability of the intended biochemical target. Assessment and prioritisation of the most promising targets for entry into screening programmes is crucial for maximising chances of success.
doi:10.2174/156802611795429185
PMCID: PMC3182078  PMID: 21401506
Chemical validation; druggability; drug resistance; genetic validation; neglected diseases; molecular targets; target assessment; target product profile.
15.  Optimisation of the Anti-Trypanosoma brucei Activity of the Opioid Agonist U50488 
Chemmedchem  2011;6(10):1832-1840.
Screening of the Sigma–Aldrich Library of Pharmacologically Active Compounds (LOPAC) against cultured Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness, resulted in the identification of a number of compounds with selective antiproliferative activity over mammalian cells. These included (+)-(1R,2R)-U50488, a weak opioid agonist with an EC50 value of 59 nm as determined in our T. brucei in vitro assay reported previously. This paper describes the modification of key structural elements of U50488 to investigate structure–activity relationships (SAR) and to optimise the antiproliferative activity and pharmacokinetic properties of this compound.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201100278
PMCID: PMC3229842  PMID: 21834094
antiprotozoal agents; human African trypanosomiasis; medicinal chemistry; U50488
16.  Identification of Inhibitors of the Leishmania cdc2-Related Protein Kinase CRK3 
Chemmedchem  2011;6(12):2214-2224.
New drugs are urgently needed for the treatment of tropical parasitic diseases such as leishmaniasis and human African trypanosomiasis (HAT). This work involved a high-throughput screen of a focussed kinase set of ∼3400 compounds to identify potent and parasite-selective inhibitors of an enzymatic Leishmania CRK3–cyclin 6 complex. The aim of this study is to provide chemical validation that Leishmania CRK3–CYC6 is a drug target. Eight hit series were identified, of which four were followed up. The optimisation of these series using classical SAR studies afforded low-nanomolar CRK3 inhibitors with significant selectivity over the closely related human cyclin dependent kinase CDK2.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201100344
PMCID: PMC3272345  PMID: 21913331
CRK3; cyclin-dependent cdc2-related kinases; leishmaniasis; triazolopyridines; ureas
17.  Design, Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Trypanosoma brucei Trypanothione Synthetase Inhibitors 
Chemmedchem  2011;7(1):95-106.
Trypanothione synthetase (TryS) is essential for the survival of the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which causes human African trypanosomiasis. It is one of only a handful of chemically validated targets for T. brucei in vivo. To identify novel inhibitors of TbTryS we screened our in-house diverse compound library that contains 62 000 compounds. This resulted in the identification of six novel hit series of TbTryS inhibitors. Herein we describe the SAR exploration of these hit series, which gave rise to one common series with potency against the enzyme target. Cellular studies on these inhibitors confirmed on-target activity, and the compounds have proven to be very useful tools for further study of the trypanothione pathway in kinetoplastids.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201100420
PMCID: PMC3320663  PMID: 22162199
antiprotozoal agents; drug design; Trypanosoma brucei; trypanothione synthetase
18.  De Novo Design of Protein Kinase Inhibitors by in Silico Identification of Hinge Region-Binding Fragments 
ACS Chemical Biology  2013;8(5):1044-1052.
Protein kinases constitute an attractive family of enzyme targets with high relevance to cell and disease biology. Small molecule inhibitors are powerful tools to dissect and elucidate the function of kinases in chemical biology research and to serve as potential starting points for drug discovery. However, the discovery and development of novel inhibitors remains challenging. Here, we describe a structure-based de novo design approach that generates novel, hinge-binding fragments that are synthetically feasible and can be elaborated to small molecule libraries. Starting from commercially available compounds, core fragments were extracted, filtered for pharmacophoric properties compatible with hinge-region binding, and docked into a panel of protein kinases. Fragments with a high consensus score were subsequently short-listed for synthesis. Application of this strategy led to a number of core fragments with no previously reported activity against kinases. Small libraries around the core fragments were synthesized, and representative compounds were tested against a large panel of protein kinases and subjected to co-crystallization experiments. Each of the tested compounds was active against at least one kinase, but not all kinases in the panel were inhibited. A number of compounds showed high ligand efficiencies for therapeutically relevant kinases; among them were MAPKAP-K3, SRPK1, SGK1, TAK1, and GCK for which only few inhibitors are reported in the literature.
doi:10.1021/cb300729y
PMCID: PMC3833278  PMID: 23534475
19.  Structure–Activity Relationship Studies of Pyrrolone Antimalarial Agents 
Chemmedchem  2013;8(9):1537-1544.
Previously reported pyrrolones, such as TDR32570, exhibited potential as antimalarial agents; however, while these compounds have potent antimalarial activity, they suffer from poor aqueous solubility and metabolic instability. Here, further structure–activity relationship studies are described that aimed to solve the developability issues associated with this series of compounds. In particular, further modifications to the lead pyrrolone, involving replacement of a phenyl ring with a piperidine and removal of a potentially metabolically labile ester by a scaffold hop, gave rise to derivatives with improved in vitro antimalarial activities against Plasmodium falciparum K1, a chloroquine-and pyrimethamine-resistant parasite strain, with some derivatives exhibiting good selectivity for parasite over mammalian (L6) cells. Three representative compounds were selected for evaluation in a rodent model of malaria infection, and the best compound showed improved ability to decrease parasitaemia and a slight increase in survival.
doi:10.1002/cmdc.201300177
PMCID: PMC3963473  PMID: 23918316
antiprotozoal agents; malaria; Plasmodium falciparum; pyrrolones; structure–activity relationships
20.  N-Myristoyltransferase inhibitors as new leads to treat sleeping sickness 
Nature  2010;464(7289):728-732.
African sleeping sickness or human African trypanosomiasis (HAT), caused by Trypanosoma brucei spp., is responsible for ~30,000 deaths each year. Available treatments for this neglected disease are poor, with unacceptable efficacy and safety profiles, particularly in the late stage of the disease, when the parasite has infected the central nervous system. Here, we report the validation of a molecular target and discovery of associated lead compounds with potential to address this unmet need. Inhibition of this target, T. brucei N-myristoyltransferase (TbNMT), leads to rapid killing of trypanosomes both in vitro and in vivo and cures trypanosomiasis in mice. These high affinity inhibitors bind into the peptide substrate pocket of the enzyme and inhibit protein N-myristoylation in trypanosomes. The compounds identified have very promising pharmaceutical properties and represent an exciting opportunity to develop oral drugs to treat this devastating disease. Our studies validate TbNMT as a promising therapeutic target for HAT.
doi:10.1038/nature08893
PMCID: PMC2917743  PMID: 20360736

Results 1-20 (20)