Trivalent PROTACs Enhance Protein Degradation Through Cooperativity and Avidity
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Bivalent small-molecule degraders, or proteolysis targeting chimeras (PROTACs), work by simultaneously binding a target protein and E3 ubiquitin ligase to produce a ternary complex. To drive target ubiquitination and degradation at low catalytic concentrations, degraders must form appropriately positioned complexes of sufficient stability, aided by intra-complex interactions. We hypothesized these molecular recognition features could be enhanced by increasing binding valency. Here we present trivalent PROTACs as a strategy to boost protein degradation. Our design for a trivalent PROTAC consisted of two BET bromodomain inhibitors and an E3 ligase ligand, each separately tethered via a branched linker. In screening, we identified SIM1, a VHL-based PROTAC, as a highly potent BET degrader, capable of low picomolar degradation for all family members, with preference for BRD2. In functional comparison studies to bivalent PROTACs or inhibitors, SIM1 showed more sustained anti-cancer activity across numerous therapeutically relevant cell lines. Biophysical, biochemical, and cellular mechanistic studies showed SIM1 induces conformational changes upon binding to the BET protein to simultaneously engage with high avidity both its bromodomains in a cis intramolecular fashion. The resulting 1:1:1 complex showed positive cooperativity, high stability and prolonged cellular residence time. We provide proof-of-concept for augmenting the binding valency of proximity-induced modalities as a strategy to leverage both cooperativity and avidity within the ternary complex to advance functional outcomes.