RASPD+: Fast Protein-Ligand Binding Free Energy Prediction Using Simplified Physicochemical Features

The virtual screening of large numbers of compounds against target protein binding sites has become an integral component of drug discovery workflows. This screening is often done by computationally docking ligands into a protein binding site of interest, but this has the drawback that a large number of poses must be evaluated to obtain accurate estimates of protein-ligand binding affinity. We here introduce a fast prefiltering method for ligand prioritization that is based on a set of machine learning models and uses simple pose-invariant physicochemical descriptors of the ligands and the protein binding pocket. Our method, Rapid Screening with Physicochemical Descriptors + machine learning (RASPD+), is trained on PDBbind data and achieves a regression performance better than for the original RASPD method and comparable to traditional scoring functions on a range of different test sets without the need for generating ligand poses. Additionally, we use RASPD+ to identify molecular features important for binding affinity and assess the ability of RASPD+ to enrich active molecules from decoys.