Unsupervised Protein-Ligand Binding Energy Prediction via Neural Euler's Rotation Equation

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 36 (NeurIPS 2023) Main Conference Track

Bibtex Paper


Wengong Jin, Siranush Sarkizova, Xun Chen, Nir HaCohen, Caroline Uhler


Protein-ligand binding prediction is a fundamental problem in AI-driven drug discovery. Previous work focused on supervised learning methods for small molecules where binding affinity data is abundant, but it is hard to apply the same strategy to other ligand classes like antibodies where labelled data is limited. In this paper, we explore unsupervised approaches and reformulate binding energy prediction as a generative modeling task. Specifically, we train an energy-based model on a set of unlabelled protein-ligand complexes using SE(3) denoising score matching (DSM) and interpret its log-likelihood as binding affinity. Our key contribution is a new equivariant rotation prediction network called Neural Euler's Rotation Equations (NERE) for SE(3) DSM. It predicts a rotation by modeling the force and torque between protein and ligand atoms, where the force is defined as the gradient of an energy function with respect to atom coordinates. Using two protein-ligand and antibody-antigen binding affinity prediction benchmarks, we show that NERE outperforms all unsupervised baselines (physics-based potentials and protein language models) in both cases and surpasses supervised baselines in the antibody case.