Lead-like Drugs: A Perspective

J Med Chem. 2018 Dec 13;61(23):10375-10384. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.8b00407. Epub 2018 Jul 27.


Lead-like drugs, or drugs below molecular weight 300, are an important and sometimes overlooked component of the current pharmacopeia and contemporary medicinal chemistry practice. To examine the recent state-of-the-art in lead-like drug discovery, we surveyed recent drug approvals from 2011 to 2017 and top 200 prescribed medications, as well as provide case studies on recently approved lead-like drugs. Many of these recent drugs are close analogs of previously known drugs or natural substrates, with a key focus of their medicinal chemistry optimization being the choice of a low molecular weight starting point and maintaining low molecular weight during the optimization. However, the identification of low molecular weight starting points may be limited by the availability of suitable low molecular weight screening sets. To increase the discovery rate of lead-like drugs, we suggest an increased focus on inclusion and prosecution of lead-like starting points in screening libraries.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Discovery*
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Molecular Weight