Workshop: Machine Learning for Drug Discovery (MLDD)

Decoding Surface Fingerprints for Protein-Ligand Interactions

Ilia Igashov · Arian Jamasb · Ahmed Sadek · Freyr Sverrisson · Arne Schneuing · Tom Blundell · Pietro Lio · Michael Bronstein · Bruno Correia

Keywords: [ protein ] [ gnn ] [ graph ]


Small molecules have been the preferred modality for drug development and therapeutic interventions. This molecular format presents a number of advantages, e.g. long half-lives and cell permeability, making it possible to access a wide range of therapeutic targets. However, finding small molecules that engage “hard-to-drug” protein targets specifically and potently remains an arduous process, requiring experimental screening of extensive compound libraries to identify candidate leads. The search continues with further optimization of compound leads to meet the required potency and toxicity thresholds for clinical applications. Here, we propose a new computational workflow for high-throughput fragment-based screening and binding affinity prediction where we leverage the available protein-ligand complex structures using a state-of-the-art protein surface embedding framework (dMaSIF). We developed a tool capable of finding suitable ligands and fragments for a given protein pocket solely based on protein surface descriptors, that capture chemical and geometric features of the target pocket. The identified fragments can be further combined into novel ligands. Using the structural data, our ligand discovery pipeline learns the signatures of interactions between surface patches and small pharmacophores. On a query target pocket, the algorithm matches known target pockets and returns either potential ligands or identifies multiple ligand fragments in the binding site. Our binding affinity predictor is capable of predicting the affinity of a given protein-ligand pair, requiring only limited information about the ligand pose. This enables screening without the costly step of first docking candidate molecules. Our framework will facilitate the design of ligands based on the target’s surface information. It may significantly reduce the experimental screening load and ultimately reveal novel chemical compounds for targeting challenging proteins.

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