The aberrant overexpression of cyclin-dependent kinase 9 (CDK9) in cancer cells results in the loss of proliferative control, making it an attractive therapeutic target for various cancers. However, the highly structural similarity between CDK9 and CDK2 makes the development of novel selective CDK9 inhibitors a challenging task and thus limits their clinical applications. Here, an effective two-stage virtual screening strategy was developed to identify novel CDK9 inhibitors with better inhibitory activity and higher selectivity. The first screening stage aims to select potential compounds with better inhibitory activity than Roniciclib, one of the most effective CDK9 inhibitors, through reliable structure-based pharmacophoric virtual screening and accurate molecular docking analyses. The second stage employs a very detailed visual inspection process, in which several structural criteria describing the major difference between the binding pockets of CDK9 and CDK2 are taken into consideration, to identify compounds with higher selectivity than CAN508, one of the CDK9 inhibitors with distinguished selectivity. Finally, three compounds (NCI207113 from NCI database and TCM0004 and TCM3282 from TCM database) with better inhibitory activity and higher selectivity were successfully identified as novel CDK9 inhibitors. These three compounds also display excellent binding stabilities, great pharmacokinetic properties and low toxicity in MD simulations and ADMET predictions. Besides, the results of binding free energy calculations suggest that enhancing van der Waals interaction and nonpolar solvation energy and/or reducing polar solvation energy can significantly improve the binding affinity of these CDK9 inhibitors. Their clinical potentials to serve as anticancer drug candidates can be further evaluated through a series of in vitro/in vivo bioassays in the future. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to identify novel CDK9 inhibitors with both better inhibitory activity and higher selectivity through an effective two-stage virtual screening strategy.
- Cyclin-Dependent Kinase 9
- Structure Based Pharmacophore Modeling
- Virtual Screening
- Molecular Docking
- Visual Inspection
- Molecular dynamics simulation