Discovery of potent thrombin inhibitors from a protease-focused DNA-encoded chemical library

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 21;117(29):16782-16789. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2005447117. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


DNA-encoded chemical libraries are collections of compounds individually coupled to unique DNA tags serving as amplifiable identification barcodes. By bridging split-and-pool combinatorial synthesis with the ligation of unique encoding DNA oligomers, million- to billion-member libraries can be synthesized for use in hundreds of healthcare target screens. Although structural diversity and desirable molecular property ranges generally guide DNA-encoded chemical library design, recent reports have highlighted the utility of focused DNA-encoded chemical libraries that are structurally biased for a class of protein targets. Herein, a protease-focused DNA-encoded chemical library was designed that utilizes chemotypes known to engage conserved catalytic protease residues. The three-cycle library features functional moieties such as guanidine, which interacts strongly with aspartate of the protease catalytic triad, as well as mild electrophiles such as sulfonamide, urea, and carbamate. We developed a DNA-compatible method for guanidinylation of amines and reduction of nitriles. Employing these optimized reactions, we constructed a 9.8-million-membered DNA-encoded chemical library. Affinity selection of the library with thrombin, a common protease, revealed a number of enriched features which ultimately led to the discovery of a 1 nM inhibitor of thrombin. Thus, structurally focused DNA-encoded chemical libraries have tremendous potential to find clinically useful high-affinity hits for the rapid discovery of drugs for targets (e.g., proteases) with essential functions in infectious diseases (e.g., severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) and relevant healthcare conditions (e.g., male contraception).

Keywords: COVID-19; DNA-encoded chemical library; SARS-CoV-2; focused DECL; protease inhibitor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Combinatorial Chemistry Techniques
  • DNA / chemistry*
  • DNA / metabolism*
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Gene Library*
  • Humans
  • Protease Inhibitors / chemistry
  • Protease Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Small Molecule Libraries / chemistry
  • Small Molecule Libraries / pharmacology*
  • Thrombin / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Protease Inhibitors
  • Small Molecule Libraries
  • DNA
  • Thrombin