• drug discovery;
  • molecular properties;
  • polypharmacology;
  • promiscuity;
  • safety pharmacology


Thumbnail image of graphical abstract

What parameters determine promiscuity? A compound's potential for promiscuity (pharmacological activity at multiple targets) may be influenced by molecular parameters such as ionization state, lipophilicity, and molecular weight. In an analysis of recent Roche compounds we found that a positive charge is an important determinant for potential promiscuity; aminergic activity was found to be the main reason for overt promiscuity.

The term “pharmacological promiscuity” describes a compound's pharmacological activity at multiple targets. Pharmacological promiscuity is undesired in typical drug discovery projects, which focus on the “one drug–one target” paradigm. Off-target activity can lead to adverse drug reactions, or can obscure pharmacodynamic effects in animal models. Therefore, advanced lead compounds, pharmacological tool compounds, and drug candidates are usually screened against panels of safety-relevant targets to detect unwanted pharmacological activities. To identify determinants of pharmacological promiscuity, we compared the panel screening outcomes of 213 recent Roche compounds with their molecular properties. Pronounced promiscuity was not observed below a threshold Clog P value of 2. For basic compounds, the propensity for weak off-target activity was found to increase with calculated basicities, whereas the potential for strong off-target activity depends more qualitatively on the presence of a positive charge at physiological pH. Compounds originating from projects with an aminergic receptor or transporter as a therapeutic target are particularly prone to promiscuity; the promiscuity of such compounds is mainly caused by their activity at other aminergic targets in the screening panel.