Target-based small molecule drug discovery towards novel therapeutics for inflammatory bowel diseases

Yi Li, Jianping Chen, Andrew A. Bolinger, Haiying Chen, Zhiqing Liu, Yingzi Cong, Allan Brasier, Iryna Pinchuk, Bing Tian, Jia Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis (UC) and Crohn's disease (CD), is a class of severe and chronic diseases of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract with recurrent symptoms and significant morbidity. Long-term persistence of chronic inflammation in IBD is a major contributing factor to neoplastic transformation and the development of colitis-associated colorectal cancer. Conversely, persistence of transmural inflammation in CD is associated with formation of fibrosing strictures, resulting in substantial morbidity. The recent introduction of biological response modifiers as IBD therapies, such as antibodies neutralizing tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α, have replaced nonselective anti-inflammatory corticosteroids in disease management. However, a large proportion (~40%) of patients with the treatment of anti-TNF-α antibodies are discontinued or withdrawn from therapy because of (1) primary nonresponse, (2) secondary loss of response, (3) opportunistic infection, or (4) onset of cancer. Therefore, the development of novel and effective therapeutics targeting specific signaling pathways in the pathogenesis of IBD is urgently needed. In this comprehensive review, we summarize the recent advances in drug discovery of new small molecules in preclinical or clinical development for treating IBD that target biologically relevant pathways in mucosal inflammation. These include intracellular enzymes (Janus kinases, receptor interacting protein, phosphodiesterase 4, IκB kinase), integrins, G protein-coupled receptors (S1P, CCR9, CXCR4, CB2) and inflammasome mediators (NLRP3), etc. We will also discuss emerging evidence of a distinct mechanism of action, bromodomain-containing protein 4, an epigenetic regulator of pathways involved in the activation, communication, and trafficking of immune cells. We highlight their chemotypes, mode of actions, structure-activity relationships, characterizations, and their in vitro/in vivo activities and therapeutic potential. The perspectives on the relevant challenges, new opportunities, and future directions in this field are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S38-S62
JournalInflammatory bowel diseases
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Crohn's disease (CD)
  • Drug discovery and development
  • Drug targets and signaling pathways
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Therapeutics
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Gastroenterology


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