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Trying to squeeze sense out of chemical data

Archive for the ‘cheminformatics’ Category

Post-doc (Molecular Informatics) Opening at NCATS

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I have a post-doc opening in the Informatics group at NCATS, to work on computational aspects of high throughput combination screening – topics will include predicting drug combination response, visualizing large combination screens (> 5000 combinations) and so on. The NCATS combination screening platform thas tested more than 65,000 compound combinations (in checkerboard style which means more than 4.5M individual dose combinations) along with single agent dose responses. You can view publicly released data at

The NCATS Informatics group is a collection of very smart people, with wide ranging interests in molecular informatics. We work closely with colleagues in biology and chemistry. As a result, we eat a lot of our own dog food. In addition, we’re committed to implementing our ideas in publicly available software tools as well as publishing in journals.

Lots of data, great people and tough problems. If this piques your interest visit the job posting for more details

Written by Rajarshi Guha

February 6th, 2015 at 8:52 pm

Applications Invited for CSA Trust Grant for 2015

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The Chemical Structure Association (CSA) Trust is an internationally recognized organization established to promote the critical importance of chemical information to advances in chemical research. In support of its charter, the Trust has created a unique Grant Program and is now inviting the submission of grant applications for 2015.

Purpose of the Grants
The Grant Program has been created to provide funding for the career development of young researchers who have demonstrated excellence in their education, research or development activities that are related to the systems and methods used to store, process and retrieve information about chemical structures, reactions and compounds. One or more Grants will be awarded annually up to a total combined maximum of ten thousand U.S. dollars ($10,000). Grants are awarded for specific purposes, and within one year each grantee is required to submit a brief written report detailing how the grant funds were allocated. Grantees are also requested to recognize the support of the Trust in any paper or presentation that is given as a result of that support.

Who is Eligible?
Applicant(s), age 35 or younger, who have demonstrated excellence in their chemical information related research and who are developing careers that have the potential to have a positive impact on the utility of chemical information relevant to chemical structures, reactions and compounds, are invited to submit applications. While the primary focus of the Grant Program is the career development of young researchers, additional bursaries may be made available at the discretion of the Trust. All requests must follow the application procedures noted below and will be weighed against the same criteria.

Which Activities are Eligible?
Grants may be awarded to acquire the experience and education necessary to support research activities; e.g. for travel to collaborate with research groups, to attend a conference relevant to one’s area of research, to gain access to special computational facilities, or to acquire unique research techniques in support of one’s research.

Application Requirements:
Applications must include the following documentation:

  1. A letter that details the work upon which the Grant application is to be evaluated as well as details on research recently completed by the applicant;
  2. The amount of Grant funds being requested and the details regarding the purpose for which the Grant will be used (e.g. cost of equipment, travel expenses if the request is for financial support of meeting attendance, etc.). The relevance of the above-stated purpose to the Trust’s objectives and the clarity of this statement are essential in the evaluation of the application);
  3. A brief biographical sketch, including a statement of academic qualifications;
  4. Two reference letters in support of the application. Additional materials may be supplied at the discretion of the applicant only if relevant to the application and if such materials provide information not already included in items 1-4. Three copies of the complete application document must be supplied for distribution to the Grants Committee.

Deadline for Applications
Applications for the 2015 Grant is March 13, 2015. Successful applicants will be notified no later than May 2nd of the relevant year.

Address for Submission of Applications
The application documentation should be forwarded to: Bonnie Lawlor, CSA Trust Grant Committee Chair, 276 Upper Gulph Road, Radnor, PA 19087, USA. If you wish to enter your application by e-mail, please contact Bonnie Lawlor at prior to submission so that she can contact you if the e-mail does not arrive.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

February 2nd, 2015 at 5:20 pm

Posted in cheminformatics

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Thoughts on the DREAM Synergy Prediction Challenge

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The DREAM consortium has run a number of predictive modeling challenges and the latest one on predicting small molecule synergies has just been published. The dataset that was provided included baseline gene expression of the cell line (OCI-LY3), expression in presence of compound (2 concentrations, 2 time points), dose response data for 14 compounds and the excess over Bliss for the 91 pairs formed from the 14 compounds. Based on this data (and available literature data) participants had to predict a ranking for the 91 combinations.

The paper reports the results of 31 approaches (plus one method that was not compared to the others) and does a good job of summarizing their performance and identifying whether certain data type or certain approaches work better than others. They also investigated the performance of an ensemble of approaches, which, as one might expect, worked better than the single methods. While the importance of gene expression in predictive performance was not as great as I would’ve thought, it was certainly more useful than chemical structure alone. Interestingly, they also noted that “compounds with more targeted mechanisms, such as rapamycin and blebbistatin, were least synergistic“. I suspect that this is somewhat dataset specific, but it will be interesting to see whether this holds in large collections of combination experiment such as those run at NCATS.

Overall, it’s an important contribution with the key take home message being

… synergy and antagonism are highly context specific and are thus not universal properties of the compounds’ chemical, structural or substrate information. As a result, predictive methods that account for the genetics and regulatory architecture of the context will become increasingly relevant to generalize results across multiple contexts

Given the relative dearth of predictive models of compound synergy, this paper is a nice compilation of methods. But there are some issues that weaken the paper.

  • One key issue are the conclusions on model performance. The organizers defined a score, termed probabilistic c-score (PC score). If I understand correctly, a random ranking should give PC = 0.5. It turns out that the best performing method exhibited a PC score = 0.61 with a number of methods hovering around 0.5. Undoubtably, this is a tough problem, but when the authors states that “… this challenge shows that current methodologies can perform significantly better than chance …” I raise an eyebrow. I can only assume that what they meant was that the results were “statistically significantly better than chance“, because in terms of effect size the results are not impressive. After reading this excellent article on p-values and significance testing I’m particularly sensitized to claims of significance.
  • The dataset could have been strengthened by the inclusion of self-crosses. This would’ve allowed the authors to assess actual excess over Bliss values corresponding to additivity (which will not be exactly 0 due to experimental noise), and avoid the use of cutoffs in determining what is synergistic or antagonistic.
  • Similarly, a key piece of data that would really strengthen these approaches is the expression data in presence of combinations. While it’s unreasonable to have this data available for all combinations, it could be used as a first step in developing models to predict the expression profile in presence of combination treatment. Certainly, such data could be used to validate some assumptions made by some of the models described (e.g., concordance of DEG’s induced by single agents implies synergistic response).
  • Kudos for including source code for the top methods, but would’ve been nicer if data files were included so we could actually reproduce the results.
  • The authors conclude that when designing new synergy experiments, one should identify mechanistically diverse molecules to make up for the “small number of potentially synergistic pathways“. While mechanistic diversity is a good idea, it’s not clear how they conclude there are a small number of pathways that play a role in synergy.
  • It’s a pity that the SynGen method was not compared to the other methods. While the authors provide a justification, it seems rather weak. The method only applied to the synergistic combinations (performance was not a whole lot better than random – true positive rate of 56%) – but the text indicates that it predicted synergistic compound pairs. It’s not clear whether this means it made a call on synergy or a predicted ranking. If the latter it would’ve been interesting to see how it compared to the rankings of the synergistic subset of 91 compounds from other methods.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

November 20th, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Metabolite Similarity & Dirty Compounds

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Edit 10/9/14 – Updated statistics for the 1024 bit fingerprints

There’s been some discussion about a paper by O’Hagan et al that have proposed a Rule of 0.5 that states that 90% of approved drugs exhibit a Tanimoto similarity > 0.5 to one or more human metabolites. Their analysis is based on metabolites listed in Recon2, a reconstruction of the human metabolic network. The idea makes sense and there’s an in depth discussion at In the Pipeline.

Given the authors’ claim that

a successful drug is likely to lie within a Tanimoto distance of 0.5 of a known human metabolite. While this does not mean, of course, that a molecule obeying the rule is likely to become a marketed drug for humans, it does mean that a molecule that fails to obey the rule is statistically most unlikely to do so

I was interested in seeing how this rule of thumb holds up when faced with compounds that are not supposed to make it through the drug development pipeline. Since PAINS appear to be the structural filter du jour, I decided to look at compounds that failed the PAINS filter. I worked with the 10,000 compounds included in Saubern et al. Simon Saubern provided me the set of 861 compounds that failed the PAINS filters, allowing me to extract the set of compounds that passed (9139)

Chris Swain was kind enough to extract the compound entries from the Matlab dump provided by O’Hagan et al. This file contained InChI representations for a subset of the entries. I extracted the 2980 valid InChI strings and converted them to SMILES using ChemAxon molconvert 6.0.5. The processed data (metabolite name, InChI and SMILES) are available here. However, after deduplication, there were 1335 unique metabolites

Now, O’Hagan et al for some reason, used the 166 bit MACCS keys, but hashed them to 1024 bits. Usually, when using a keyed fingerprint, the goal is to retain the correspondence between bit position and substructure. The hashing step results in a loss of such correspondence. So it’s a bit surprising that they didn’t use some sort of path (Daylight) or environment (ECFPn) based fingerprint. Since I didn’t know how they hashed the MACCS keys, I calculated 166 bit MACCS keys and 1024 bt ECFP6 and extended path fingerprints using the CDK (via rcdk). Then for each compound in the PAINS pass or fail set, I computed the similarity to each of the 1335 metabolites and identified the maximum similarity (termed NMTS in the paper) and then plotted the distribution of these NMTS values between the PAINS pass and fail sets.


First, the similarity cutoff proposed by the authors is obiously dependent on the fingerprint. So while the bulk of the 166 bit MACCS similarities are > 0.5, this is not really meaningful. A more relevant comparison is to 1024 bit fingerprints – both are hashed, so should be somewhat comparable to the authors choice of hashed MACCS keys.

The path fingerprints lead to an NMTS of ~ 0.25 for both PAINS pass and fail sets and the ECFP6 leads to an NMTS of ~ 0.18 for both sets. Though the difference in medians between the pass and fail sets for the path fingerprint is statistically significant (p = 1.498e-05, Wilcoxon test), the difference itself is very small: 0.005. (For the circular fingerprint there is no statistically significant difference). However, the PAINS pass set does contain more outliers with values > 0.5. In that sense the proposed rule does separate the two groups. Of the top of my head I don’t know whether the WEHI screening deck that was the source of the 10,000 compounds was designed to be drug-like. At the same time all this might be saying is there is no relationship between metabolite-likenes and PAINS-likeness.

It’d be interesting to see how this type of analysis holds up with other well known filter rules (REOS, Lilly etc). A related thing to look at would be to see how druglikeness scores compare with NMTS values.

Code and data are available in this repository

Written by Rajarshi Guha

October 7th, 2014 at 5:47 pm

rinchi – An R package to generate InChI’s and InChI Keys

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While trying to update rcdk on CRAN it was pointed out to me that usage of the library resulted in modifications to the users home directory. Specifically, this occurred when generating InChI‘s. The CDK makes use of jni-inchi, which in turn depends on JNATI which enables Java code to work with native libraries in a platform independent fashion. As part of this, it creates $HOME/.jnati – which is a no-no for CRAN packages. To resolve this, the latest version of rcdklibs excludes the InChI module and its dependencies. Hopefully rcdk and rcdklibs will now pass CRAN QC.

To access InChI functionality in R you can use the rinchi package which is hosted on Github. Since it will modify the users home directory, it cannot be hosted on CRAN. However, it’s easy enough to install

install_github("cdkr", "rajarshi", subdir="rinchi")

Importantly, if all you need is to go from SMILES to InChI, there is no need to install rcdk as well. So the following works

inchi <- get.inchi('CCC')
inchik <- get.inchi.key('CCC')

But if you do have a molecule object obtained via rcdk, you can also pass that in to get an InChI or InChI key representation.

Written by Rajarshi Guha

August 30th, 2014 at 6:23 pm

Posted in cheminformatics,software

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