Background: The use of structural alerts to de-prioritize compounds with undesirable features as drug candidates has been gaining in popularity. Hundreds of molecular structural moieties have been proposed as structural alerts. An emerging issue is that strict application of these alerts will result in a significant reduction of the chemistry space for new drug discovery, as more than half of the oral drugs on the market match at least one of the alerts. To mitigate this issue, we propose to apply a rigorous statistical analysis to derive/validate structural alerts before use.
Method: To derive human liver toxicity structural alerts, we retrieved all small-molecule entries from LiverTox, a U.S. National Institutes of Health online resource for information on human liver injuries induced by prescription and over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements. We classified the compounds into hepatotoxic, nonhepatotoxic, and possible hepatotoxic classes, and performed detailed statistical analyses to identify molecular structural fragments highly enriched in the hepatotoxic class beyond random distribution as structural alerts for human liver injuries.
Results: We identified 12 molecular fragments present in multiple marketed drugs that one can consider as common "drug-like" fragments, yet they are strongly associated with drug-induced human liver injuries. Thus, these fragments may be considered as robust hepatotoxicity structural alerts suitable for use in drug discovery screening programs.
Conclusions: The use of structural alerts has contributed to the identification of many compounds with potential toxicity issues in modern drug discovery. However, with a large number of structural alerts published to date without proper validation, application of these alerts may restrict the chemistry space and prevent discovery of valuable drugs. To mitigate this issue, we showed how to use statistical analyses to develop a small, robust, and broadly applicable set of structural alerts. Graphical abstractHepatotoxic-specific filters for flagging high risk compounds.
Keywords: Bioactivation; Drug-induced liver injury; Hepatotoxicity; Reactive metabolite; Structure alert.