PNAS recently came out with a special concentration of chemistry papers, and they're worth a look. The theme is the synthesis of chemical probes, which makes me think that maybe Stuart Schrieber can guest-edit an issue of Vogue next. Today I'm going to highlight one from the Broad Institute on diversity-oriented synthesis (DOS), and next week I'll get to some more.
OK, that was something of a come-on for regular readers of this site, who now will be listening for the sound of grinding wheels coming up to speed, the better to sharpen the Sword of Justice. I've said unfriendly things in the past about DOS and some of the claims made for it. The point of much of this work has been lost on me, and I'm a pretty broad-minded guy. (That word, in this case, rhymes with "sawed", not with "load"). The first flush (no aspersions meant) of papers in the field might just as well have been titled "Check It Out: A Bunch of Huge Compounds No One's Ever Made Before", and were followed up, in my mind, by landmark publications such as "A Raving Heapload of Structures You Didn't Want in the First Place" and "Dang, There Are Even More Compounds With Molecular Weight 850 Than We Thought". But does it have to be this way?
Maybe not. As I mentioned earlier this year, people are starting to compare DOS and fragment-based approaches. (I think that Nature dialog could have been more useful than it was, but it was a start). And this latest paper continues that process. It's using DOS approaches to generate smaller molecular weight compounds - fragments, actually. They're not tiny ones, more medium-to-large size by fragment-based standards, but they're under 300 MW.
And, importantly, they're deliberately designed to be three-dimensional - lots of pyrrolidines and fused-ring compounds thereof, homopiperidines, spiro-lactams, and so on. Many of the early fragment libraries (and many of the commercial ones that you can still buy) are too invested in small, flat, heterocycles. It's not that you can't get good leads from those things, but there's a lot more to life (and to molecular property space). This paper's collection is still a bit heavy on the alkenes to my taste (all those ring-closing metathesis reactions), but they've also reduced those for part of the library, which means that a screen of this collection will tell you if the olefin is a key structural feature or not. The alkenes themselves could serve as useful handles to build out from as well; a fragment hit with no ways to elaborate its structure isn't too useful.
As I said back in February, "I'd prefer that DOS collections not get quite so carried away, and explore new structural motifs more in the range of druglike space." That's exactly what this paper does, and I think its direction should be encouraged. This plays to the strengths of both approaches, rather than pushing either of them to the point where they break down.