Applied Machine Learning Toward Drug Discovery Enhancement: Leishmaniases as a Case Study

Bioinform Biol Insights. 2022 Apr 22;16:11779322221090349. doi: 10.1177/11779322221090349. eCollection 2022.


Drug discovery (DD) research is a complex field with a high attrition rate. Machine learning (ML) approaches combined to chemoinformatics are of valuable input to this field. We, herein, focused on implementing multiple ML algorithms that shall learn from different molecular fingerprints (FPs) of 65 057 molecules that have been identified as active or inactive against Leishmania major promastigotes. We sought to build a classifier able to predict whether a given molecule has the potential of being anti-leishmanial or not. Using the RDkit library, we calculated 5 molecular FPs of the molecules. Then, we implemented 4 ML algorithms that we trained and tested for their ability to classify the molecules into active/inactive classes based on their chemical structure, encoded by the molecular FPs. Best performers were random forest (RF) and support vector machine (SVM), while atom-pair and topology torsion FPs were the best embedding functions. Both models were further assessed on different stratification levels of the dataset and showed stable performances. At last, we used them to predict the potential of molecules within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drugs collection to present anti-Leishmania effects. We ranked these drugs according to their anti-Leishmanial probability and obtained in total seven anti-Leishmania agents, previously described in the literature, within the top 10 of each model. This validates the robustness of the approach, the algorithms, and FPs choices as well as the importance of the dataset size and content. We further engaged these molecules into reverse docking experiments on 3D crystal structures of seven well-studied Leishmania drug targets and could predict the molecular targets for 4 drugs. The results bring novel insights into anti-Leishmania compounds.

Keywords: Leishmania; Machine learning; classification; drug repurposing; drug target; molecular fingerprints.