Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type





Pharmaceutical Sciences

First Advisor

Dr. Chang-Guo Zhan


Computational drug design methods have great potential in drug discovery particularly in lead identification and lead optimization. 3-Phosphoinositide dependent kinase-1 (PDK1) is a protein kinase and a well validated anti-cancer target. Inhibitors of PDK1 have the potential to be developed as anti-cancer drugs. In this work, we have applied various novel computational drug design strategies to design and identify new PDK1 inhibitors with potential anti-cancer activity. We have pursued novel structure-based drug design strategies and identified a new binding mode for celecoxib and its derivatives binding with PDK1. This new binding mode provides a valuable basis for rational design of potent PDK1 inhibitors. In order to understand the structure-activity relationship of indolinone-based PDK1 inhibitors, we have carried out a combined molecular docking and three-dimensional quantitative structure-activity relationship (3D-QSAR) modeling study. The predictive ability of the developed 3D-QSAR models were validated using an external test set of compounds. An efficient strategy of the hierarchical virtual screening with increasing complexity was pursued to identify new hits against PDK1. Our approach uses a combination of ligand-based and structure-based virtual screening including shape-based filtering, rigid docking, and flexible docking. In addition, a more sophisticated molecular dynamics/molecular mechanics- Poisson-Boltzmann surface area (MD/MM-PBSA) analysis was used as the final filter in the virtual screening. Our screening strategy has led to the identification of a new PDK1 inhibitor. The anticancer activities of this compound have been confirmed by the anticancer activity assays of national cancer institute-developmental therapeutics program (NCI-DTP) using 60 cancer cell lines. The PDK1-inhibitor binding mode determined in this study may be valuable in future de novo drug design. The virtual screening approach tested and used in this study could also be applied to lead identification in other drug discovery efforts.