Critical Assessment of Artificial Intelligence Methods for Prediction of hERG Channel Inhibition in the ‘Big Data’ Era

16 April 2020, Version 1
This content is a preprint and has not undergone peer review at the time of posting.


The rise of novel artificial intelligence methods necessitates a comparison of this wave of new approaches with classical machine learning for a typical drug discovery project. Inhibition of the potassium ion channel, whose alpha subunit is encoded by human Ether-à-go-go-Related Gene (hERG), leads to prolonged QT interval of the cardiac action potential and is a significant safety pharmacology target for the development of new medicines. Several computational approaches have been employed to develop prediction models for assessment of hERG liabilities of small molecules including recent work using deep learning methods. Here we perform a comprehensive comparison of prediction models based on classical (random forests and gradient boosting) and modern (deep neural networks and recurrent neural networks) artificial intelligence methods. The training set (~9000 compounds) was compiled by integrating hERG bioactivity data from ChEMBL database with experimental data generated from an in-house, high-throughput thallium flux assay. We utilized different molecular descriptors including the latent descriptors, which are real-valued continuous vectors derived from chemical autoencoders trained on a large chemical space (> 1.5 million compounds). The models were prospectively validated on ~840 in-house compounds screened in the same thallium flux assay. The deep neural networks performed significantly better than the classical methods with the latent descriptors. The recurrent neural networks that operate on SMILES provided highest model sensitivity. The best models were merged into a consensus model that offered superior performance compared to reference models from academic and commercial domains. Further, we shed light on the potential of artificial intelligence methods to exploit the chemistry big data and generate novel chemical representations useful in predictive modeling and tailoring new chemical space.


QT interval
cardiac arrhythmia
hERG channel
Deep neural networks (DNN)
Recurrent Neural Networks

Supplementary materials

Supporting Information


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