Structure-Based and Property-Driven Optimization of N-Aryl Imidazoles toward Potent and Selective Oral RORγt Inhibitors

J Med Chem. 2019 Dec 12;62(23):10816-10832. doi: 10.1021/acs.jmedchem.9b01291. Epub 2019 Dec 3.


Retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor gamma-t (RORγt) is considered to be the master transcription factor for the development of Th17 cells that produce proinflammatory cytokines such as IL-17A. Overproportionate Th17 cell abundance is associated with the pathogenesis of many inflammatory conditions including psoriasis. In a high-throughput fluorescence resonance energy transfer (FRET) screen, we identified compound 1 as a hit with promising lipophilic efficiency (LipE). Using structure-based drug design based on a number of X-ray cocrystal structures, we morphed this hit class into potent imidazoles, exemplified by compound 3. To improve the poor absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion (ADME) properties of neutral imidazoles, we extended our ligands with carboxylic acid substituents toward a polar, water-rich area of the protein. This highly lipophilicity-efficient modification ultimately led to the discovery of compound 14, a potent and selective inhibitor of RORγt with good ADME properties and excellent in vivo pharmacokinetics. This compound showed good efficacy in an in vivo delayed-type hypersensitivity pharmacology model in rats.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Animals
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Design
  • Female
  • Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer
  • Half-Life
  • Hypersensitivity, Delayed / drug therapy*
  • Imidazoles / chemistry
  • Imidazoles / pharmacokinetics
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology*
  • Male
  • Models, Molecular
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group F, Member 3 / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Rats


  • Imidazoles
  • Nuclear Receptor Subfamily 1, Group F, Member 3