Fragment- and structure-based drug discovery for developing therapeutic agents targeting the DNA Damage Response

Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2021 Aug:163:130-142. doi: 10.1016/j.pbiomolbio.2020.10.005. Epub 2020 Oct 25.


Cancer will directly affect the lives of over one-third of the population. The DNA Damage Response (DDR) is an intricate system involving damage recognition, cell cycle regulation, DNA repair, and ultimately cell fate determination, playing a central role in cancer etiology and therapy. Two primary therapeutic approaches involving DDR targeting include: combinatorial treatments employing anticancer genotoxic agents; and synthetic lethality, exploiting a sporadic DDR defect as a mechanism for cancer-specific therapy. Whereas, many DDR proteins have proven "undruggable", Fragment- and Structure-Based Drug Discovery (FBDD, SBDD) have advanced therapeutic agent identification and development. FBDD has led to 4 (with ∼50 more drugs under preclinical and clinical development), while SBDD is estimated to have contributed to the development of >200, FDA-approved medicines. Protein X-ray crystallography-based fragment library screening, especially for elusive or "undruggable" targets, allows for simultaneous generation of hits plus details of protein-ligand interactions and binding sites (orthosteric or allosteric) that inform chemical tractability, downstream biology, and intellectual property. Using a novel high-throughput crystallography-based fragment library screening platform, we screened five diverse proteins, yielding hit rates of ∼2-8% and crystal structures from ∼1.8 to 3.2 Å. We consider current FBDD/SBDD methods and some exemplary results of efforts to design inhibitors against the DDR nucleases meiotic recombination 11 (MRE11, a.k.a., MRE11A), apurinic/apyrimidinic endonuclease 1 (APE1, a.k.a., APEX1), and flap endonuclease 1 (FEN1).

Keywords: APE1; Cancer therapeutics; DNA damage Response; DNA repair; FEN1; Fragment-based drug discovery; MRE11; Structure-based drug discovery; X-ray crystallography.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Crystallography, X-Ray
  • DNA Damage
  • DNA Repair
  • Drug Discovery*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations