I often get asked to help with the analysis of high-throughput screening results and one of the first filters I run as part of the hit identification is to flag for PAINS (Pan Assay Interference Compounds) first described by Baell et al DOI and subsequently summarised in an excellent Nature comment.
Academic researchers, drawn into drug discovery without appropriate guidance, are doing muddled science. When biologists identify a protein that contributes to disease, they hunt for chemical compounds that bind to the protein and affect its activity. A typical assay screens many thousands of chemicals. ‘Hits’ become tools for studying the disease, as well as starting points in the hunt for treatments.
These molecules — pan-assay interference compounds, or PAINS — have defined structures, covering several classes of compound. But biologists and inexperienced chemists rarely recognize them. Instead, such compounds are reported as having promising activity against a wide variety of proteins. Time and research money are consequently wasted in attempts to optimize the activity of these compounds. Chemists make multiple analogues of apparent hits hoping to improve the ‘fit’ between protein and compound. Meanwhile, true hits with real potential are neglected.
In the supplementary information they provided the corresponding filters in Sybyl Line Notation (SLN) format, however they have also been converted to SMARTS format and incorporated in sieve file for use in filtering compound collections. If you are a Vortex user then there is also a Vortex script available, filters are also available for Knime and now it is even available on mobile devices with MolPrime+.
It is probably not until you have been involved in multiple small molecule screens that you appreciate the number of ways that false positives can occur and just how much valuable time and resources can be wasted following them up. Indeed it may be for the more difficult targets the majority of hits seen may be false positives. Flagging PAINS is now such a well developed tool that it would be fool hardy not to include it.