Experimental Binding Modes of Small Molecules in Protein-Ligand Docking

Protein-ligand docking tends to be very good at generating binding modes that resemble experimental binding modes from X-ray crystallography and other methods (assuming we have a high quality structure…); but it is also very good at generating plausible models for ligands that don’t bind. These so-called “false positives” lead to reduced accuracy in structure-based virtual screening campaigns.

Structure-based methods are not the only way of approaching virtual screening: when all we know is the chemical structure of an active molecule, but nothing about its target (or targets), we can use ligand-based virtual screening methods, which operate on the principle of molecular similarity (Maggiora et al., 2014).

But what if we combine both methods?

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A brief history of usage of the word “decoy” in protein structure prediction

Some concepts in science are counter-intuitive, like the Monty Hall problem or the Mpemba effect. Occasionally, this is also true for terminology, despite the best efforts of scientists to ensure that their work can be explained unambiguously to newcomers. Specifically, in our field of protein structure prediction, the word “decoy” has been used to mean one of many conformations generated by a de novo modelling protocol such as Rosetta, or alternative conformations of loops produced by an ab initio program e.g. Sphinx. Though slightly baffled by this usage when I started working in the field, I have now become so familiar with its strange new meaning that I have to remind myself to explain it in talks to a more general audience, or simply aim to avoid the term altogether. Nonetheless, following a heated discussion over the term in a recent group meeting, I thought it would be interesting to trace the roots of the new meaning.

Let’s begin with a definition from Google:


noun: decoy; plural noun: decoys
a bird or mammal, or an imitation of one, used by hunters to attract other birds or mammals.
“a decoy duck”
  • a person or thing used to mislead or lure someone into a trap.
    “we need a decoy to distract their attention”

So we start with the idea of something distracting, resembling the true thing but with the intent to deceive. So how has this sense of the word evolved into what we use now? I attempted to dig out the earliest mention of decoy for a computationally generated protein conformation with a Google scholar search for “decoy protein”, which led to the work of Thomas and Dill published in 1996. Here the authors describe a method of distinguishing the native fold of a protein from the sequence threaded, without gaps, onto alternative structures from the PDB. This problem of discrimination between native and non-native had been carried out previously, but Thomas and Dill chose to describe the alternatives as “decoy conformations” or just “decoys”.

A similar problem was commonly attempted over the following years, of separating native structures from sets of computationally generated conformations. Due to the demands of conformer generation at this time, some sets were published themselves in online databases to be used as a resource for training scoring functions.

When it comes to the problem of de novo protein structure prediction, unfortunately it isn’t as simple as picking out the correct answer from a population of incorrect answers. Even among hundreds of thousands of conformations generated by the best methods, the exact native crystal structure will not be found (though a complication here that the protein is dynamic and will occupy an ensemble of native conformations). Therefore, the aim of any scoring function in structure prediction is instead to select which incorrect conformation is closest to the native structure, hoping to obtain at least the correct fold.

It is for this reason that we move towards the idea of choosing a model from a pool of decoys. Zhu et al. (2003) use “decoy” in precisely this way:

“One strategy for ab initio protein structure prediction is to generate a large number of possible structures (decoys) and select the most fitting ones based on a scoring or free energy function”

This seems to be where the idea of a decoy as incorrect and distracting is lost, and takes on its new meaning as one of a large and diverse set of protein-like conformations, which has continued until now.

So is it ever helpful to refer to “decoys” as opposed to “models”? What is communicated by “decoy” that is not achieved by using the word “model”? I think this may come down to the impression which is given by talking about a pool of decoys. People would not generally assume that each decoy on its own has any effective use for prediction of function. There is a sense that this is not the final result of the structure prediction pipeline, there is work yet to be done in refining, clustering, and making human judgments on the suitability of the output. Only after these stages would I feel more comfortable using the word “model”, to express the greater confidence we have in the structure (small though that may be in the de novo structure prediction world). However, the inadequacy of “model” does not alone justify this tenuous usage of “decoy”. Perhaps we could speak more often about populations of “conformations”. In any case, “decoy” is widespread in the community, and easily understood by those who are most likely to be reading, reviewing and editing the literature so I think we will be stuck with it for a while yet.

Conformational diversity analysis reveals three functional mechanisms in proteins

Conformational diversity analysis reveals three functional mechanisms in proteins

This paper was published recently in Plos Comp Bio and looks at the conformational diversity (flexibility) of protein structures by comparing solved structures of identical sequences.

The premise of the work is that different crystal structures of the same protein represent instances of the conformational space of the protein. These different instances are identical in amino acid sequence but often differ in other ways they could come from different crystal forms or the protein could have different co-factors bound or have undergone post translational modifications.

The data set used in the paper came from CoDNaS (conformational diversity of the native state) Database URL:http://ufq.unq.edu.ar/codnas.

Only structures solved using X-ray crystallography to a resolution better than 2.5A were used and only proteins for which at least 5 conformers were available (average of 15.53 conformers per protein). Just under 5000 different protein chains made up the set. In order to describe the protein chains the measure used was maximum conformational diversity (the maximum RMSD between any of the conformers of a given protein chain).

The authors describe a relationship between this maximum conformational diversity and the presence absence of intrinsically disordered regions (IDRs). An IDR was defined as a segment of at least 5 contiguous residues with missing electron density (the first and last 20 residues of the chain were not included).

The proteins were divided into three groups.


  • No IDRS

Partially disordered

  • IDRs in at least one conformer
  • IDR in the maximum RMSD pair of conformational diversity


  • IDRs in at least one conformer
  • No IDR in the maximum RMSD pair of conformational diversity

Rigid proteins have in general lower conformational diversity than partially disordered than Malleable. The authors describe how these differences are not due to crystallographic conditions, protein length, number of crystal contacts or number of conformers.

The authors then go on to compare other properties based on these three types of protein chains including amino acid composition, loop RMSD and cavities and tunnels.

They summarise their findings with the figure below.

Interesting Antibody Papers

Here we highlight two antibody papers, one from the past one more recent. The more recent one talks about developing an affinity maturation model. The older one is a refresher on the Developability Index — how to computationally harness hydrophobicity and accessible surface areas to predict aggregation.

Mouse antibody maturation model — the most expanded (common) clones might not be the ones with highest affinities here (van Kampen lab). The authors of the paper define a model of affinity maturation. The main take-home message of the paper is that the ‘most expanded’ clones might not be the ones with highest affinity — expanded clones are assumed to be the ones ‘responding’ to the antigenic challenge. The model is based on Ordinary Differential Equations, tracing cell fate in a germinal center. The model was compared to experimental expansion data from lymph nodes for accuracy. In each such model one needs to assume a lot of parameters, such as which day post-immunization do we start somatic hypermuatation? The paper is a very nice example of a model of maturation and a good starting point for tracing references citing germinal center biology and numbers for parameters used for models (also the general canon of construction of such models!).

Developability index here. (Trout lab at MIT). The authors touch on a very important subject of antibody developability: after you produced your ab binder, does it have physicochemical characteristics which are suitable to carry on with it as a therapeutic. Such characteristics include stability, expression yields and aggregation propensity. Aggregation propensity is one of the most important factors here as it affects the pharmacokinetics of the drug as well as shelf life. In this manuscript, authors address attempt to predict the aggregation propensity of antibodies. As background data, they use twelve antibodies whose long term stability has been measured over several years. To develop a computational method to predict antibody aggregation propensity, they use a score which combines hydrophobicity and electrostatic factors. The hydrophobicity is an adapted SAP score which the authors developed previously, and whose main parameters are the exposed residue area and hydrophobicity of the residue as defined by Black and Mould. The electrostatics are calculated using PROPKA. Since combining the scores into a predictive model involved parametrization, they use seven of the antibodies to adjust the coefficients. They use the rest to demonstrate that their model has predictive power. Calculation of their models requires a structure of an antibody which they obtain using WAM. Take home messages? It is a nice dataset to play with aggregation prediction and it demonstrates how to calculate electrostatics and hydrophobicity of a molecule.


Protein structure determination using metagenome sequence data

For this week’s journal club, I presented a recent paper from Ovchinnikov, and the David Baker group – Protein structure determination using metagenome sequencing data. This discussed how incorporating metagenome sequence data into multiple sequence alignments, can assist with and improve residue-residue contact prediction. The paper concludes with the prediction of over 600 structures from protein families that currently have no solved structures.

The Pfam database contains 14,849 protein families with 50 or more residues. However, only 4752 of these families have at least one member with an experimentally determined structure. 3984 of the remaining 10,097 families have reliable comparative models built on the basis of homologs of known structure. Less confident comparative models can be built for a further 902 families, however this leaves 5211 families with no structural information.

The recent technological advances in genome sequencing have provided an increasingly large number of amino acid sequences to work with. Large numbers of sequences allows the identification of compensatory mutations that have occurred in residues that are in contact with each other. This is called evolutionary co-variance and can allow the relatively accurate prediction of residues that are in contact in a structure. Rosetta utilises these co-evolutionary couplings, along with partial structural matches (found by combining the predicted contacts with contact patterns of known structures, using the map_align algorithm ) to predict structures from a number of families with fold-level accuracy ( TM-score > 0.5 ). However, it was unknown if this method could be used to accurately predict protein structures on a large-scale.

One challenge in using co-evolutionary couplings to predict residue-residue contacts is that a large number of sequences (hundreds to thousands) are needed. The accuracy of the predicted contacts is also dependent on the diversity of the sequences in a family, and the length of the protein. Nf is a measure that incorporates all of these factors :

Figure 1A shows the dependence of Rosetta structure prediction accuracy on the Nf. In general, where Nf64, accuracy typical of comparative modelling (TM-score > 0.7) can be achieved. For Nf32, fold-level accuracy (TM-score > 0.5) can be achieved, below this, accuracy falls off. Of the 5211 families with no structural information, only ~400 of these had Nf64; therefore accurate structural modelling could not be achieved for the remaining ~4800 of these families using the sequencing data available on UniRef100.


Fig 1. (a) Accuracy of predicted structures produced with and without refinement by Rosetta for families with different Nf values. (b) Number of protein families with Nf≥64 between 2009 and 2015 using UniRef100 database, and UniRef100 and Metagenome data. (c) Percentage of protein families with Nf scores 4, 8, 16, 32, and 64 including sequences from UniRef100 and metagenome data.

The addition of metagenome sequence data (from shotgun sequencing microbial DNA from environmental samples) increased the proportion of families with Nf64 from 0.08, to 0.25. The proportion of families with Nf32 also increased from 0.16, to 0.33. The difference in the fraction of protein families with Nf64 before and after the addition of metagenome sequence data can be seen in Figure 1B, and Figure 1C shows the percentage of families with Nf scores above 4, 8, 16, 32 and 64.

After running a set of benchmark calculations, this larger set of sequence data were used to generate models for 921 protein families, which now had Nf64 and also had number of long range contacts greater than half the number of residues in the protein. Of these 921 protein families, models with predicted TM scores > 0.65 were generated for 614 families. Although these were only predicted TM scores, crystal structures for members of 5 of the 614 families have since been published and had a TM-score > 0.7 when compared with the corresponding model.

Limitations with this using this data include the lack of eukaryotic genetic information currently, as well as the lack of explicit modeling of ligands, co-factors and lipids using the Rosetta workflow. However, the fast rate of increase in metagenome sequencing data (as compared to the rate of increase of sequencing data in UniRef100) means that while these new models fill roughly 12% of the unknown structural information for protein families, the potential for future structural prediction is bright.

Bitbucket and PyCharm – Tools to make a DPhil less problematic

I find Git a wonderful tool for my work, with version control providing much needed damage control to my projects. I also find Git incredibly powerful at making my working life easier, with the ability to use git push and git pull to synchronise my code between the various computers that I use for my DPhil. Via a BitBucket account, providing a remote Git repository, I am able to move my code around to wherever I am working and allow more room for either more procrastination or staring at my screen in confusion.

As simple as GIT is, it can be a fiddle entering the git commands in command line as well as remembering to do this as you rush to leave the building. This has all been made much easier with PyCharm, from JetBrains. This IDE (integrated development environment) has many tools including version control such as support for a variety of file types, PEP8 checks to ensure good quality code and its ability to work with ipython notebooks.

I’ve put the following mini-tutorial together for those who want to make or bring in an existing repository to PyCharm and get version control working:

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Colour page counter

So you’ve written the thesis, you’ve been examined, the corrections are done, and now you are left with just wearing the silly clown robes to get a piece of paper with your name on it. However, you’ve been informed that you aren’t allowed to don the silly robes until you print the damn thing (again) and submit it to the Bod to be ignored for generations to come. Oh, and the added bonus is that you have to pay for it. Naturally, you want the high-quality printing and paper to match for the final versions, but it’s all so expensive. At least you can save a few meagre pounds by specifying only the pages for colour printing. Naturally, I decided that I would spend far more time making a script than just counting them myself (which I did anyway to verify it works). Enjoy.

#!/usr/bin/env Rscript


args <- commandArgs(trailingOnly=TRUE)
x <- system(paste("gs -q -o - -sDEVICE=inkcov",args[1]," | awk '{print $1,$2,$3}'"),intern=TRUE)
x <- as.data.table(tstrsplit(x,' '))
print(paste("Colour pages total:",sum(rowSums(x)!=0)))
print(paste("Colour pages:", paste(which(rowSums(x) != 0),collapse=', ')))

Faster FREAD with Pandas

One of the things I like to do is to scale up things using the ridiculous amount of cores at my disposal (sometimes even for a good reason). One of these examples is when I had to model millions of CDRs (or loops) using FREAD.

The process through which you model a loop in Fread is:

  1. Pre-filtering step: Anchor Ca separation and ESST score in between your target and all the templates in the DB. The ones that pass a threshold are saved for step 2
  2. Anchor RMSD test

The major bottleneck for such an analysis is step 1, where most of the templates are filtered out so for step 2 you get a very reduced subset. The data for doing the Anchor Ca separation and ESST score is all stored for each possible template in one row of an sqlite database. So when you do step 1 you will go through each row of this table and calculate the score, with the database is stored on the hard drive so costly I/O. This is fine for the original purpose of Fread, where you filled in a missing loop for one structure, but when you are doing it for 100 million examples, going through a table stored on a hard drive 100 million times, sequentially, it is going to be SLOW. I say sequentially because for the python implementation using sqlite3 I had a lot of trouble trying to use a db handle on multiple threads, or load the same sql file on different instances on threads, it just crashes for no good reason. There has been chat about this on stackoverflow and I think this has moved on since I implemented it in 2015. Nevertheless, I wanted a simple and clean solution.

I decided to transform the sqlite3 database into a Pandas object. Pandas objects are basically a convenient way of storing tables with methods available that mimick conventional querying mechanisms for databases. These are stored in memory, easily dumped as pickle files, and can be easily duplicated between threads so no issues with thread safety. Obviously you need to have enough memory to store all of that, but for my application that was not a problem. Below is some sample code on how I used it to transform the template DB from FREAD.

import pandas as pd
import sqlite3 as sql

rows = []

# connect to your fread sql file
conn = sql.connect("fread_sql_file.sql")
    query = "SELECT dihedral, sequence, pdbcode, start, anchor, bound FROM loops"
    results = conn.execute(query)
    for row in results:
        # store the rows as a list of dictionaries
        rows.append(dict(zip(['dihedral', 'length', 'pdbcode', 'anchor', 'sequence', 'start', 'bound'], [row[0], len(row[1]), row[2], row[4] ,row[1], row[3], row[5]])))
except Exception as e:
    print "Error during query", str(e)

# create a pandas dataframe from the list of dictionaries 
df = pd.DataFrame(rows)
# store the table as a pickle file which you can reload later (this is very fast!)

After running this you will have your sql database as a pandas dataframe, and you can write methods which are thread safe to model loops as below:

import pandas as pd

cdr_db pd.read_pickle("fread_pandas_file.sqlite")

def model_loop(query_sequence, query_anchors_ca):
    # score_sequence_db_helper is your function that attaches a scores based on your query sequence and the row in the template db
    scores = cdr_db.apply(lambda row: score_sequence_db_helper(row, query_sequence, query_anchors_ca), axis=1)

    # attach the score
    results = zip(list(cdr_db['pdbcode']), scores, list(cdr_db['sequence']))

    # keep the ones that are over the threshold
    results = filter(lambda (pdb_code, score, sequence): score>=THRESHOLD, results)
    return results



A very basic introduction to Random Forests using R

Random Forests is a powerful tool used extensively across a multitude of fields. As a matter of fact, it is hard to come upon a data scientist that never had to resort to this technique at some point. Motivated by the fact that I have been using Random Forests quite a lot recently, I decided to give a quick intro to Random Forests using R.

So what are Random Forests?  Well, I am probably not the most suited person to answer this question (a google search will reveal much more interesting answers) , still I shall give it a go. Random Forests is a learning method for classification (and others applications — see below). It is based on generating a large number of decision trees, each constructed using a different subset of your training set. These subsets are usually selected by sampling at random and with replacement from the original data set. The decision trees are then used to identify a classification consensus by selecting the most common output (mode). While random forests can be used for other applications (i.e. regression), for the sake of keeping this post short, I shall focus solely on classification.

Why R? Well, the quick and easy question for this is that I do all my plotting in R (mostly because I think ggplot2 looks very pretty). I decided to explore Random Forests in R and to assess what are its advantages and shortcomings. I am planning to compare Random Forests in R against the python implementation in scikit-learn. Do expect a post about this in the near future!

The data: to keep things simple, I decided to use the Edgar Anderson’s Iris Data set. You can have a look at it by inspecting the contents of iris in R. This data set contains observations for four features (sepal length and width, and petal length and width – all in cm) of 150 flowers, equally split between three different iris species. This data set is fairly canon in classification and data analysis. Let us take a look at it, shall we:

As you can observe, there seems to be some separation in regards to the different features and our three species of irises [note: this set is not very representative of a real world data set and results should be taken with a grain of salt].

Training and Validation sets: great care needs to be taken to ensure clear separation between training and validation sets. I tend to save the cases for which I am actually interested in performing predictions as a second validation set (Validation 2). Then I split the remaining data evenly into Training and Validation 1.

Let us split our data set then, shall we?

# Set random seed to make results reproducible:
# Calculate the size of each of the data sets:
data_set_size <- floor(nrow(iris)/2)
# Generate a random sample of "data_set_size" indexes
indexes <- sample(1:nrow(iris), size = data_set_size)

# Assign the data to the correct sets
training <- iris[indexes,]
validation1 <- iris[-indexes,]

Before we can move on, here are some things to consider:

1- The size of your data set usually imposes a hard limit on how many features you can consider. This occurs due to the curse of dimensionality, i.e. your data becomes sparser and sparser as you increase the number of features considered, which usually leads to overfitting. While there is no rule of thumb relating to how many features vs.  the number of observations you should use, I try to keep e^Nf < No (Nf = number of features, No = number of observations) to minimise overfitting [this is not always possible and it does not ensure that we won’t overfit]. In this case, our training set has 75 observations, which suggests that using four features (e^4 ~ 54.6) is not entirely absurd. Obviously, this depends on your data, so we will cover some further overfitting checks later on.

2- An important thing to consider when assembling training sets is the proportion of negatives vs. positives in your data. Think of an extreme scenario where you have many, many more observations for one class vs. the others. How will this affect classification? This would make it more likely for the classifier to predict the dominant class when given new values. I mentioned before that the iris set is quite nice to play with. It comes with exactly 50 observations for each species of irises. What happens if you have a data set with a much higher number of observations for a particular class? You can bypass any imbalance regarding the representation of each class by carefully constructing your training set in order not to favour any particular class. In this case, our randomly selected set has 21 observations for species setosa and 27 observations for each of species versicolor and virginica, so we are good to go.

3- Another common occurrence that is not represented by the iris data set is missing values (NAs) for observations. There are many ways of dealing with missing values, including assigning the median or the mode for that particular feature to the missing observation or even disregarding some observations entirely, depending on how many observations you have. There are even ways to use random forests to estimate a good value to assign to the missing observations, but for the sake of brevity, this will not be covered here.

Right, data sets prepared and no missing values, it is time to fire our random forests algorithm. I am using the  randomForest package. You can click the link for additional documentation. Here is the example usage code:

#import the package
# Perform training:
rf_classifier = randomForest(Species ~ ., data=training, ntree=100, mtry=2, importance=TRUE)

Note some important parameters:

-The first parameter specifies our formula: Species ~ . (we want to predict Species using each of the remaining columns of data).
ntree defines the number of trees to be generated. It is typical to test a range of values for this parameter (i.e. 100,200,300,400,500) and choose the one that minimises the OOB estimate of error rate.
mtry is the number of features used in the construction of each tree. These features are selected at random, which is where the “random” in “random forests” comes from. The default value for this parameter, when performing classification, is sqrt(number of features).
importance enables the algorithm to calculate variable importance.

We can quickly look at the results of our classifier for our training set by printing the contents of rf_classifier:

> rf_classifier

 randomForest(formula = Species ~ ., data = training,ntree=100,mtry=2, importance = TRUE) 
               Type of random forest: classification
                     Number of trees: 100
No. of variables tried at each split: 2

        OOB estimate of  error rate: 5.33%
Confusion matrix:
           setosa versicolor virginica class.error
setosa         21          0         0  0.00000000
versicolor      0         25         2  0.07407407
virginica       0          2        25  0.07407407

As you can see, it lists the call used to build the classifier, the number of trees (100), the variables at each split (2), and it outputs a very useful confusion matrix and OOB estimate of error rate. This estimate is calculated by counting however many points in the training set were misclassified (2 versicolor and 2 virginica observations = 4) and dividing this number by the total number of observations (4/75 ~= 5.33%).

The OOB estimate of error rate is a useful measure to discriminate between different random forest classifiers. We could, for instance, vary the number of trees or the number of variables to be considered, and select the combination that produces the smallest value for this error rate. For more complicated data sets, i.e. when a higher number of features is present, a good idea is to use cross-validation to perform feature selection using the OOB error rate (see rfcv from randomForest for more details).

Remember the importance parameter? Let us take a look at the importance that our classifier has assigned to each variable:


Each features’s importance is assessed based on two criteria:

-MeanDecreaseAccuracy: gives a rough estimate of the loss in prediction performance when that particular variable is omitted from the training set. Caveat: if two variables are somewhat redundant, then omitting one of them may not lead to massive gains in prediction performance, but would make the second variable more important.

-MeanDecreaseGini: GINI is a measure of node impurity. Think of it like this, if you use this feature to split the data, how pure will the nodes be? Highest purity means that each node contains only elements of a single class. Assessing the decrease in GINI when that feature is omitted leads to an understanding of how important that feature is to split the data correctly.

Do note that these measures are used to rank variables in terms of importance and, thus, their absolute values could be disregarded.

Ok, great. Looks like we have a classifier that was properly trained and is producing somewhat good predictions for our training set. Shall we evaluate what happens when we try to use this classifier to predict classes for our  validation1 set?

# Validation set assessment #1: looking at confusion matrix
prediction_for_table <- predict(rf_classifier,validation1[,-5])

observed     setosa versicolor virginica
  setosa         29          0         0
  versicolor      0         20         3
  virginica       0          1        22

The confusion matrix is a good way of looking at how good our classifier is performing when presented with new data.

Another way of assessing the performance of our classifier is to generate a ROC curve and compute the area under the curve:


# Validation set assessment #2: ROC curves and AUC

# Needs to import ROCR package for ROC curve plotting:

# Calculate the probability of new observations belonging to each class
# prediction_for_roc_curve will be a matrix with dimensions data_set_size x number_of_classes
prediction_for_roc_curve <- predict(rf_classifier,validation1[,-5],type="prob")

# Use pretty colours:
pretty_colours <- c("#F8766D","#00BA38","#619CFF")
# Specify the different classes 
classes <- levels(validation1$Species)
# For each class
for (i in 1:3)
 # Define which observations belong to class[i]
 true_values <- ifelse(validation1[,5]==classes[i],1,0)
 # Assess the performance of classifier for class[i]
 pred <- prediction(prediction_for_roc_curve[,i],true_values)
 perf <- performance(pred, "tpr", "fpr")
 if (i==1)
     plot(perf,main="ROC Curve",col=pretty_colours[i]) 
     plot(perf,main="ROC Curve",col=pretty_colours[i],add=TRUE) 
 # Calculate the AUC and print it to screen
 auc.perf <- performance(pred, measure = "auc")

Here is the final product (ROC curve):

And here are the values for our AUCs:

AUC = 1

AUC = 0.98

AUC = 0.98

Voila! I hope this was somewhat useful!

Interesting Antibody Papers

This time round, one older paper, one recent paper. The older one talks about estimating how many H3s can there be in a human body based on sequencing of two individuals (they cap it at 9 million — not that much!). The more recent one is an attempt to define what makes a good antibody in terms of its developability properties (a battery of biophys assays on 150 therapeutic antibodies- amazing dataset to work with).

High resolution description of antibody heavy chain repertoires in (two) humans (Koralov lab at NYU). Here. Two individuals were sequenced and their VDJ frequencies measured. It is widely believed that the VDJ recombination events are largely independent and random. Here however they demonstrate some biases/interplay between the D and J regions. Since H3 falls on the VDJ junction, it might suggest that it affects the total choice of H3. Another quite important point is that they compared the productive vs nonproductive sequences (out of frame or with stop codons). If there were significant differences between the VDJ frequencies of productive vs nonproductive sequences, it would suggest selection at the VDJ frequency stage. However they do not see any significant differences here suggesting that VDJ combinations have little bearing on this initial selection step. Finally, they estimate the number of H3 in repertoire. The technique is interesting — they sample 1000 H3s from their set and see how many unique sequences it contributes. Each next sample contributes less and less unique sequences which leads to a log-decay curve. By doing so they get a rough estimate of when there will be no more new sequences added and hence an estimate of diversity (think why do this rather than counting the number of uniques!). They allow themselves to extrapolate this estimate to the whole organism by multiplying their blood sample by the total human body volume — they motivate this extrapolation by the fact that there were precious little overlaps between the two human subjects.

Biophysical landscape of clinical stage antibodies [here]. Paper from Adimab. Designing an antibody which binding its target is only a first step on the way to bring the drug on the market. The molecule needs to fulfill a variety of characteristics such as colloidal stability (does not aggregate or ‘clump up’), does not instantly clear from the organism (which is usually down to off target binding), is stable and can be expressed in reasonable quantities. In an effort to delineate what makes a good antibody, the authors take inspiration from earlier work on small molecules, namely the Lipinski Rules of Five. This set of rules describes what makes a ‘good’ small molecule drug, which was assessed by looking at ~2000 therapeutic drugs. The rules came down to certain numbers of hydrogen bond donors, acceptors, molecular weight & lipophilicity. Therefore, Jain et al would like a similar methodology, but for antibodies: give me an antibody and using methodology/rules we define, we will tell you either to carry on with development or maybe not. Since antibodies are far more complex and the data on therapeutic abs orders of magnitude smaller (around 50 therapeutic abs to date) Jain et al, had to devise a more nuanced approach than simply counting hb donors/acceptors mass etc. The underlying ‘good’ molecule data though is similar: they picked therapeutic antibodies and those in late clinical testing stages (2,3). This resulted in ~150 antibodies. So as to devise the benchmark ‘rules/methodology’, they went for a battery of assays to serve as a benchmark — if your ab raises too many red flags according to these assays, it’s not great (what constitutes a red flag to be defined). These assays were supposed to not be obscure and relatively easy to use as the point was that an arbitrary antibody can be relatively easy checked against them. The assays are a range of expression, cross reactivity, self reactivity, thermal stability etc. To define red flags, they run their therapeutic/clinical antibodies through the tests. To their surprise quite a lot of these molecules turn out to have quite ‘undesirable characteristics’. Following the Lipinski Rules, they define a red flag as being in the bottom 10th percentile of the assay values as evaluated on the therapeutic abs. They show that the antibodies which are approved or in more advanced clinical trials stages have less red flags. Therefore, the take-home messages from this paper: very nice dataset for any computational work, raising red flags does not disqualify you from being a therapeutic.