In the context of polypharmacology, an emerging concept in drug discovery, promiscuity is rationalized as the ability of compounds to specifically interact with multiple targets. Promiscuity of drugs and bioactive compounds has thus far been analyzed computationally on the basis of activity annotations, without taking assay frequencies or inactivity records into account. Most recent estimates have indicated that bioactive compounds interact on average with only one to two targets, whereas drugs interact with six or more. In this study, we have further extended promiscuity analysis by identifying the most extensively assayed public domain compounds and systematically determining their promiscuity. These compounds were tested in hundreds of assays against hundreds of targets. In our analysis, assay promiscuity was distinguished from target promiscuity and separately analyzed for primary and confirmatory assays. Differences between the degree of assay and target promiscuity were surprisingly small and average and median degrees of target promiscuity of 2.6 to 3.4 and 2.0 were determined, respectively. Thus, target promiscuity remained at a low level even for most extensively tested active compounds. These findings provide further evidence that bioactive compounds are less promiscuous than drugs and have implications for pharmaceutical research. In addition to a possible explanation that drugs are more extensively tested for additional targets, the results would also support a "promiscuity enrichment model" according to which promiscuous compounds might be preferentially selected for therapeutic efficacy during clinical evaluation to ultimately become drugs.
Jasial, S., Hu, Y., & Bajorath, J. (2016). Determining the degree of promiscuity of extensively assayed compounds. PLoS ONE, 11(4). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153873