Since the first approved hepatitis C virus (HCV) NS3 protease inhibitors in 2011, numerous direct acting antivirals (DAAs) have reached late stages of clinical trials. Today, several combination therapies, based on different DAAs, with or without the need of pegylated interferon-α injection, are available for chronic HCV infections. The chemical foundation of the approved and late-stage HCV NS3 protease inhibitors is markedly similar. This could partly explain the cross-resistance that have emerged under the pressure of NS3 protease inhibitors. The first-generation NS3 protease inhibitors were developed to efficiently inhibit genotype 1 of the virus and were less potent against other genotypes.
The main focus in this thesis was to design and synthesize a new class of 2(1H)-pyrazinone based HCV NS3 protease inhibitors, structurally dissimilar to the inhibitors evaluated in clinical trials or approved, potentially with a unique resistance profile and with a broad genotypic coverage. Successive modifications were performed around the pyrazinone core structure to clarify the structure-activity relationship; a P3 urea capping group was found valuable for inhibitory potency, as were elongated R6 residues possibly directed towards the S2 pocket. Dissimilar to previously developed inhibitors, the P1’ aryl acyl sulfonamide was not essential for inhibition as shown by equally good inhibitory potency for P1’ truncated inhibitors. In vitro pharmacokinetic (PK) evaluations disclosed a marked influence from the R6 moiety on the overall drug-properties and biochemical evaluation of the inhibitors against drug resistant enzyme variants showed retained inhibitory potency as compared to the wild-type enzyme. Initial evaluation against genotype 3a displayed micro-molar potencies. Lead optimization, with respect to improved PK properties, were also performed on an advanced class of HCV NS3 protease inhibitors, containing a P2 quinazoline substituent in combination with a macro-cyclic proline urea scaffold with nano-molar cell based activities.
Moreover, an efficient Pd-catalyzed C-N urea arylation protocol, enabling high yielding introductions of advanced urea substituents to the C3 position of the pyrazinone, and a Pd-catalyzed carbonylation procedure, to obtain acyl sulfinamides, were developed. These methods can be generally applicable in the synthesis of bioactive compounds containing peptidomimetic scaffolds and carboxylic acid bioisosteres.