SophosQM: Accurate Binding Affinity Prediction in Compound Optimization

Riccardo Guareschi, Iva Lukac, Ian H. Gilbert, and Fabio Zuccotto

ACS Omega 2023, 8, 17, 15083–15098


The optimization of compounds’ binding affinity for a biological target is a crucial aspect of the drug development process. Being able to accurately predict binding energies in advance of synthesizing compounds would have a massive impact on the speed of the drug discovery process. The ideal binding affinity prediction method should combine accuracy, reliability, and speed. In this paper, we present SophosQM, a quantum mechanics (QM)-based approach, which can accurately predict the binding affinities of compounds to proteins. The binding affinity predictive models generated by SophosQM are based on the fragment molecular orbital (FMO) method to estimate the enthalpic component of the binding free energy, and a macroscopic descriptor, clog P, is used as an approximation of the entropic component. The affinity prediction is performed using multilinear regression, fitting the experimental values against the FMO-computed enthalpic term and clog P. The quality of the prediction can be assessed in terms of the correlation coefficient between experimental and predicted values. In this work, the method’s reliability and accuracy are exemplified by applying SophosQM to 70 compounds binding to six different targets of pharmaceutical relevance. Overall, the results show a very satisfactory performance with a global correlation coefficient in the order of 0.9. Our predictions also show a satisfactory performance compared to data based on free energy perturbation. Finally, SophosQM can also be applied in high-throughput mode by using semiempirical QM methods to evaluate large portions of chemical space, while retaining a good level of accuracy, but decreasing the computing time to just a few seconds per compound.