Assigning Confidence to Molecular Property Prediction

Introduction: Computational modeling has rapidly advanced over the last decades, especially to predict molecular properties for chemistry, material science and drug design. Recently, machine learning techniques have emerged as a powerful and cost-effective strategy to learn from existing datasets and perform predictions on unseen molecules. Accordingly, the explosive rise of data-driven techniques raises an important question: What confidence can be assigned to molecular property predictions and what techniques can be used for that purpose? Areas covered: In this work, we discuss popular strategies for predicting molecular properties relevant to drug design, their corresponding uncertainty sources and methods to quantify uncertainty and confidence. First, our considerations for assessing confidence begin with dataset bias and size, data-driven property prediction and feature design. Next, we discuss property simulation via molecular docking, and free-energy simulations of binding affinity in detail. Lastly, we investigate how these uncertainties propagate to generative models, as they are usually coupled with property predictors. Expert opinion: Computational techniques are paramount to reduce the prohibitive cost and timing of brute-force experimentation when exploring the enormous chemical space. We believe that assessing uncertainty in property prediction models is essential whenever closed-loop drug design campaigns relying on high-throughput virtual screening are deployed. Accordingly, considering sources of uncertainty leads to better-informed experimental validations, more reliable predictions and to more realistic expectations of the entire workflow. Overall, this increases confidence in the predictions and designs and, ultimately, accelerates drug design.

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