Improved Protein-Ligand Binding Affinity Prediction with Structure-Based Deep Fusion Inference

Derek Jones, Hyojin Kim, Xiaohua Zhang, Adam Zemla, Garrett Stevenson, W. F.Drew Bennett, Daniel Kirshner, Sergio E. Wong, Felice C. Lightstone, Jonathan E. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Predicting accurate protein-ligand binding affinities is an important task in drug discovery but remains a challenge even with computationally expensive biophysics-based energy scoring methods and state-of-the-art deep learning approaches. Despite the recent advances in the application of deep convolutional and graph neural network-based approaches, it remains unclear what the relative advantages of each approach are and how they compare with physics-based methodologies that have found more mainstream success in virtual screening pipelines. We present fusion models that combine features and inference from complementary representations to improve binding affinity prediction. This, to our knowledge, is the first comprehensive study that uses a common series of evaluations to directly compare the performance of three-dimensional (3D)-convolutional neural networks (3D-CNNs), spatial graph neural networks (SG-CNNs), and their fusion. We use temporal and structure-based splits to assess performance on novel protein targets. To test the practical applicability of our models, we examine their performance in cases that assume that the crystal structure is not available. In these cases, binding free energies are predicted using docking pose coordinates as the inputs to each model. In addition, we compare these deep learning approaches to predictions based on docking scores and molecular mechanic/generalized Born surface area (MM/GBSA) calculations. Our results show that the fusion models make more accurate predictions than their constituent neural network models as well as docking scoring and MM/GBSA rescoring, with the benefit of greater computational efficiency than the MM/GBSA method. Finally, we provide the code to reproduce our results and the parameter files of the trained models used in this work. The software is available as open source at Model parameter files are available at

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1583-1592
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Chemical Information and Modeling
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 26 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Library and Information Sciences


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