Machine learning prediction of oncology drug targets based on protein and network properties

Zoltán Dezso, Michele Ceccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: The selection and prioritization of drug targets is a central problem in drug discovery. Computational approaches can leverage the growing number of large-scale human genomics and proteomics data to make in-silico target identification, reducing the cost and the time needed. Results: We developed a machine learning approach to score proteins to generate a druggability score of novel targets. In our model we incorporated 70 protein features which included properties derived from the sequence, features characterizing protein functions as well as network properties derived from the protein-protein interaction network. The advantage of this approach is that it is unbiased and even less studied proteins with limited information about their function can score well as most of the features are independent of the accumulated literature. We build models on a training set which consist of targets with approved drugs and a negative set of non-drug targets. The machine learning techniques help to identify the most important combination of features differentiating validated targets from non-targets. We validated our predictions on an independent set of clinical trial drug targets, achieving a high accuracy characterized by an Area Under the Curve (AUC) of 0.89. Our most predictive features included biological function of proteins, network centrality measures, protein essentiality, tissue specificity, localization and solvent accessibility. Our predictions, based on a small set of 102 validated oncology targets, recovered the majority of known drug targets and identifies a novel set of proteins as drug target candidates. Conclusions: We developed a machine learning approach to prioritize proteins according to their similarity to approved drug targets. We have shown that the method proposed is highly predictive on a validation dataset consisting of 277 targets of clinical trial drug confirming that our computational approach is an efficient and cost-effective tool for drug target discovery and prioritization. Our predictions were based on oncology targets and cancer relevant biological functions, resulting in significantly higher scores for targets of oncology clinical trial drugs compared to the scores of targets of trial drugs for other indications. Our approach can be used to make indication specific drug-target prediction by combining generic druggability features with indication specific biological functions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104
JournalBMC bioinformatics
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 14 Mar 2020



  • Drug target prioritization
  • Machine learning
  • Network analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Structural Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics

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