Evaluation of the effects of purine C-8 substitution within a series of CDK1/2-selective O(6)-cyclohexylmethylguanine derivatives revealed that potency decreases initially with increasing size of the alkyl substituent. Structural analysis showed that C-8 substitution is poorly tolerated, and to avoid unacceptable steric interactions, these compounds adopt novel binding modes. Thus, 2-amino-6-cyclohexylmethoxy-8-isopropyl-9H-purine adopts a "reverse" binding mode where the purine backbone has flipped 180°. This provided a novel lead chemotype from which we have designed more potent CDK2 inhibitors using, in the first instance, quantum mechanical energy calculations. Introduction of an ortho-tolyl or ortho-chlorophenyl group at the purine C-8 position restored the potency of these "reverse" binding mode inhibitors to that of the parent 2-amino-6-cyclohexylmethoxy-9H-purine. By contrast, the corresponding 8-(2-methyl-3-sulfamoylphenyl)-purine derivative exhibited submicromolar CDK2-inhibitory activity by virtue of engineered additional interactions with Asp86 and Lys89 in the reversed binding mode, as confirmed by X-ray crystallography.