We present results on the extent to which physics-based simulation (exemplified by FEP+) and focused machine learning (exemplified by QuanSA) are complementary for ligand affinity prediction.

For both methods, predictions of activity for LFA-1 inhibitors from a medicinal chemistry lead optimization project were accurate within the applicable domain of each approach. A hybrid model that combined predictions by both approaches by simple averaging performed better than either method, with respect to both ranking and absolute pKi values. Two publicly available FEP+ benchmarks, covering 16 diverse biological targets, were used to test the generality of the synergy.

By identifying training data specifically focused on relevant ligands, accurate QuanSA models were derived using ligand activity data known at the time of the original series publications. Results across the 16 benchmark targets demonstrated significant improvements both for ranking and for absolute pKi values using hybrid predictions that combined the FEP+ and QuanSA predicted affinity values.

The results argue for a combined approach for affinity prediction that makes use of physics-driven methods as well as those driven by machine learning, each applied carefully on appropriate compounds, with hybrid prediction strategies being employed where possible.