Drug discovery using chemical systems biology: weak inhibition of multiple kinases may contribute to the anti-cancer effect of nelfinavir

PLoS Comput Biol. 2011 Apr;7(4):e1002037. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002037. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


Nelfinavir is a potent HIV-protease inhibitor with pleiotropic effects in cancer cells. Experimental studies connect its anti-cancer effects to the suppression of the Akt signaling pathway, but the actual molecular targets remain unknown. Using a structural proteome-wide off-target pipeline, which integrates molecular dynamics simulation and MM/GBSA free energy calculations with ligand binding site comparison and biological network analysis, we identified putative human off-targets of Nelfinavir and analyzed the impact on the associated biological processes. Our results suggest that Nelfinavir is able to inhibit multiple members of the protein kinase-like superfamily, which are involved in the regulation of cellular processes vital for carcinogenesis and metastasis. The computational predictions are supported by kinase activity assays and are consistent with existing experimental and clinical evidence. This finding provides a molecular basis to explain the broad-spectrum anti-cancer effect of Nelfinavir and presents opportunities to optimize the drug as a targeted polypharmacology agent.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacokinetics
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Binding Sites
  • Drug Discovery / methods*
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Molecular Dynamics Simulation
  • Nelfinavir / chemistry
  • Nelfinavir / pharmacokinetics
  • Nelfinavir / pharmacology*
  • Protein Binding
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinases / metabolism*
  • Systems Biology / methods*
  • Thermodynamics


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Protein Kinases
  • Nelfinavir