Paper alert! Rapid Elaboration of Fragments into Leads (REFiL)

The challenge in fragment-based drug discovery (FBDD) is not finding hits, we typically find plenty, it’s what to do with them. In their recent publication, Centre members demonstrate a systematic approach for the Rapid Elaboration of Fragments into Leads (REFiL), where they take weak binding fragment hits and quickly develop them into higher affinity ligands that can be used as chemical probes or as starting points for a drug discovery program.

The paper was published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry by the following researchers and Centre members: Luke Adams, Lorna Wilkinson-White, Menachem Gunzburg, Stephen Headey, Biswaranjan Mohanty, Centre Director Martin Scanlon, Deputy Director Ben Capuano, Theme Leader Joel Mackay and Brad Doak.


The development of low-affinity fragment hits into higher-affinity leads is a major hurdle in fragment-based drug design. Here, we demonstrate the Rapid Elaboration of Fragments into Leads (REFiL) by applying an integrated workflow that provides a systematic approach to generate higher-affinity binders without the need for structural information. The workflow involves the selection of commercial analogues of fragment hits to generate preliminary structure–activity relationships. This is followed by parallel microscale chemistry using chemoinformatically designed reagent libraries to rapidly explore chemical diversity. After a fragment screen against bromodomain-3 extra-terminal (BRD3-ET) domain, we applied the REFiL workflow, which allowed us to develop a series of ligands that bind to BRD3-ET. With REFiL, we were able to rapidly improve binding affinity > 30-fold. REFiL can be applied readily to a broad range of proteins without the need for a structure, allowing the efficient evolution of low-affinity fragments into higher-affinity leads and chemical probes.