COVALfinder®, the ideal tool for irreversible drug discovery programs

Irreversible inhibition involves an initial binding step driven by affinity and a time-dependent inactivation step driven by covalent bond formation1-3. Using COVALfinder® in the early stages of drug discovery:

  • Enables the early identification of irreversible compounds.
  • Allows for the improvement of both inhibitor binding and covalent bond formation: Modification of any part of an inhibitor may improve the rate of covalent bond formation (kinact) at the expense of inhibitor binding to the target (KI) or vice versa.
  • Allows differentiation between similar therapies.
  • Helps you to define in vivo target occupancy.

Discovering and de-risking EGFR irreversible inhibitors

Targeting EGFR with irreversible inhibitors like Afatinib and Dacomitinib has dramatically changed the therapeutic routine for lung adenocarcinoma patients. However, under therapeutic pressure, resistant clones emerge. Osimertinib and Nazartinib have been designed to overcome acquired resistance induced by the T790M mutation with high specificity and reduced off-target WT EGFR-driven toxicities.

We have studied in detail the inactivation kinetics of seven irreversible EGFR drugs using COVALfinder®.

Figure 1. Characterization of the kinetics of EGFR inactivation by the irreversible inhibitor Nazartinib. (A) Progress curve of EGFR incubated with increasing compound concentrations. (B) Dependence of kobs on Nazartinib concentration. (C) Dose-response curves over time. (D) IC50 values over time.
Table 1. Kinetic analysis of irreversible inhibition of EGFR. A comparison of the kinetic values obtained with COVALfinder® and those reported in the literature is also shown.

Identification of EGFR irreversible compounds

  • The binding profiles showed a slow onset of inhibition (representative data for Nazartinib is shown in Fig.1, A) and the characteristic time-dependent reduction in IC50 due to the formation of the covalent complex over time (Fig.1, C and D).
  • The dependence of kobs on inhibitor concentration displayed a two-step inhibition (Fig.1, B). This behavior is consistent with either slow onset reversible inhibition or irreversible inhibition. However, in all cases the y-intercept was zero, which is only consistent with irreversible binding.
  • The kinact, KI, kinact/KI and T1/2 (half-life for inactivation at infinite concentration of inhibitor) values (Table 1) correlate with those obtained from activity assays reported in the literature. 
  • Both the mechanism of inhibition and the kinetic constants were successfully characterized for all the irreversible EGFR inhibitors4-6.

Differentiation of EGFR drug candidates by inactivation kinetics

  • The quinazoline based irreversible EGFR drugs (Dacomitinib, Afatinib, Canertinib and Poziotinib) are extremely efficient (kinact/KI) with high affinity (KI) and low specific reactivity (kinact).
  • Neratinib has the same reactive substituent as Afatinib, but its affinity is 10-fold weaker and with 3-fold lower inactivation efficiency.

Pyrimidine based irreversible EGFR T790M inhibitors (Osimertinib and Nazartinib) show up to 500 times lower affinity and inactivation efficiency with similar weak reactivity.

Figure 2. Covalency quadrant scale. Classification of EGFR covalent binders by comparing the rate of covalent bond formation (kinact) against affinity (KI).


  1. Ayah A. et al. (2020) Advances in covalent kinase inhibitors. Chem Soc Rev. 49(9):2617-2687.
  2. Strelow J.M. et al. (2017) A Perspective on the Kinetics of Covalent and Irreversible Inhibition. SLAS Discov. 22(1):3-20.
  3. Bauer R.A. (2015) Covalent inhibitors in drug discovery: from accidental discoveries to avoided liabilities and designed therapies. Drug Discov Today 20(9):1061-73.
  4. Zhai X. et al. (2020) Insight into the Therapeutic Selectivity of the Irreversible EGFR Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor Osimertinib through Enzyme Kinetic Studies. Biochemistry 59(14):1428-1441.
  5. Fassunke J. et al. (2018) Overcoming EGFR G724S-mediated osimertinib resistance through unique binding characteristics of second-generation EGFR inhibitors. Nat Commun. 7;9(1):4655.
  6. Schwartz P.A. et al. (2014) Covalent EGFR inhibitor analysis reveals importance of reversible interactions to potency and mechanisms of drug resistance. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 22(1):3-20.