New fragments suggested by machine learning

Published: 22 June 2021

BioAscent’s Associate Director of In Silico Discovery and Data Analysis, Dr Angelo Pugliese, is the corresponding author of a publication that applies artificial intelligence techniques to generate novel fragments. The recent ‘Practical Fragments’ blog explains the work carried out by Angelo and his team whilst working at the Beatson Institute.

“Machine learning has become a hot new thing in drug discovery, attracting massive attention and investment. While easy to parody, artificial intelligence techniques are becoming increasingly powerful. A new paper in J. Chem Inf. Mod. by Angelo Pugliese and colleagues at the Beatson Institute applies the methodology to generate a new fragment library.

Machine learning entails collecting large amounts of data, passing that through various neural networks, and obtaining recommendations. In this case, the researchers wanted to generate “privileged fragments” that would hit in multiple assays. (Of course, the idea would be to make genuinely privileged fragments, such as 4-azaindole, rather than PAINS.) The researchers used a training set of 66 fragments that hit in at least three of 25 screens done at the Beatson, for which the average hit rate was 2.18%.

First though, the researchers needed to teach their model how to generate chemically valid fragments in the first place (for example, fewer than 5 bonds to carbon). To do this they used both SMILES (simplified molecular-input line-entry system) and chemical fingerprints from a set of 486,565 commercially available fragments. They then combined this model with the privileged fragments. Extensive details are provided; as they go well beyond my expertise I won’t even attempt to summarize them. (For example, “the classifier for the smi2smi model comprised sequential 64-unit and 32-unit dense ReLU layers followed by a single sigmoid output neuron.”) At the end of the exercise, and after triaging by medicinal chemists, the researchers came up with a set of 741 fragments.

What are their overall properties? For one thing, generated fragments tend to be more planar (as assessed by PBF) and have lower Fsp3 values than the nearly half-million fragments used for training. The researchers acknowledge that this could reflect the historical composition of the Beatson fragment library, although as we argued here it could also be true that flatter fragments just give higher hit rates.

Molecular complexity is a fundamental but poorly defined aspect of fragment-based lead discovery, and the researchers have come up with their own metric, called feature complexity (FeCo), which incorporates information on rotatable bonds, numbers of halogens, hydrogen bond donors and acceptors, charged groups, aromatic rings, and hydrophobic elements, all normalized by the number of heavy atoms. Hopefully, this will be explored more fully in a dedicated publication.

What do the individual fragments actually look like? Five examples are shown in the paper, and nearly 200 more are provided in the supporting information. Click here to see seven chosen arbitrarily from that list (sampling every 30 structures).

Of course, the question remains as to whether these fragments will truly turn out to be privileged. As might be expected given the vastness of chemical space, only 78 of the 741 are commercially available. The researchers note that they are acquiring some of these, and it will be interesting to see how they perform in the screens to come.”

To view the publication in full, click here

To find out more about BioAscent's in-house fragment and diversity libraries, click here

This blog is published with the kind permission of Daniel Erlanson/Practical Fragments.

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