Low reproducibility of published target validation studies as well as the frequent failure of genetic knock-down effects to phenocopy those of small molecule inhibitors have been recognized as road blocks for cancer drug discovery. Academic and industrial institutions have started to address these issues by providing access to high quality small molecular probes for novel targets of interest. Here we discuss probe discovery challenges and quality criteria based on the generation of three novel inhibitors for epigenetic targets.

ATAD2 (ATPase family AAA-domain containing protein 2) is an epigenetic regulator that binds to chromatin through its bromodomain (BD). ATAD2 has been proposed to act as a co-factor for oncogenic transcription factors such as ERα and Myc. A more thorough validation of ATAD2 as a therapeutic target has been hampered by the lack of appropriate ATAD2 inhibitors. Here we disclose a structurally unprecedented series of ATAD2 BD inhibitors identified from a DNA-encoded library screen. Optimization delivered BAY-850, a highly potent and exceptionally selective ATAD2 BD inhibitor, which fully recapitulates effects seen by genetic mutagenesis studies in a cellular assay.

The three BD and PHD-finger (BRPF) family members are found in histone acetyltransferase complexes. Whereas bromodomain inhibitors with dual activity against BRPF1 and 2 have been described before, we now disclose BAY-299, the first nanomolar inhibitor of the BRPF2 BD with high selectivity against its paralogs. Isoform selectivity was confirmed in cellular protein-protein interaction assays and rationalized based on X-Ray structures.

BAY-598, a highly selective, cellularly active and orally bioavailable inhibitor of the protein lysine methyl transferase SMYD2, had been disclosed previously (Stresemann et al., AACR 2015). Development of BAY-598 allowed the identification of new methylation targets of SMYD2 as well as a proposed role of SMYD2 in pancreatic cancer.

These results support further development of small molecule inhibitors as research tools to probe the functional role of novel epigenetic targets and underscore the power of open innovation for advancing our understanding of cancer target biology.

Citation Format: Ingo V. Hartung, Cheryl Arrowsmith, Volker Badock, Naomi Barak, Markus Berger, Peter J. Brown, Clara D. Christ, Erik Eggert, Ursula Egner, Oleg Fedorov, Amaury E. Fernandez-Montalvan, Matyas Gorjanacz, Andrea Haegebarth, Bernard Haendler, Roman C. Hillig, Simon H. Holton, Kilian V. Huber, Seong J. Koo, Antonius ter Laak, Susanne Mueller, Anke Mueller-Fahrnow, Cora Scholten, Stephan Siegel, Timo Stellfeld, Detlef Stoeckigt, Carlo Stresemann, Masoud Vedadi, Joerg Weiske, Hilmar Weinmann. Probing the cancer epigenome: empowering target validation by open innovation [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 5239. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-5239