Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Looking back at 2015

I'll start the year by taking a look back at some of the 2015 blog posts. The dynamic range of the bullshitometer was severely tested last year and there was an element of 'pour encourager les autres' to more than one of the posts. I thought that it'd be fun to share some travel pics and the first is of the Danube in Belgrade (I'd dropped by to catch up with friends and deliver a harangue at the university).  The early evening light was quite perfect although I hope that I won't spoil your experience of the photo by telling you that there was a pig carcass floating about 100 m from it was taken.


I changed the title of the blog this year. I've not been involved with FBDD for some years now and molecular design was always my main interest. One of the ideas that I try to communicate is that there's more to design than just making predictions. After Belgrade, I dropped in at Fidelta in Zagreb where I delivered another harangue before heading south to Sarajevo.  I'm a keen student of history so it was inevitable that this would be the first photo I'd take in Sarajevo.

It seems so bizarre today. There had already been one assassination attempt for the day when the driver of the car took the fateful wrong turn that gave Gavrilo Princip the opportunity to fire two shots at the royal couple. Back in Vienna, Sophie was not always allowed out in public with Franz Ferdinand so the trip to Sarajevo may have been a special treat for her. What if SatNav had already been invented but, then again, what if Queen Victoria's eldest child had succeeded her to the throne?

Part of the problem was that, as a lowly Czech countess, Sophie was not considered an appropriate match for the Habsburg heir by Franz Josef (the reigning emperor and a puritanical old killjoy) and there were rules (although metrics and Lean Six Sigma 'belts' had, thankfully, not yet been invented). One of the rules was that the children of Sophie and Franz Ferdinand were barred from succession. It is somewhat ironic that poor Franz Ferdinand was never even supposed to be crown prince in the first place and only got the job because his cousin Rudolf had abruptly removed himself from the Habsburg line of succession a quarter of a century previously. 

All this talk of puritanical rules serves as a reminder that, before moving on, I need to point you towards a friend's blog post on roundheads (who were bigger killjoys than Franz Josef or even Lean Six Sigma 'belts') and cavaliers in drug discovery.  I really like the term 'roundhead' and I think you do have to agree that it's a lot politer than 'compound quality jackboot'. Terms like 'roundhead' and 'jackboot' are invariably associated with pain and that brings me to the next topic which is PAINS. My interest in this topic was piqued by a PAINS-shaming post at Practical Fragments and I have to thank my friends there for launching me on what has proven to be a most stimulating, although at times disturbing, line of inquiry.

My first post on PAINS examined some of the basic science and cheminformatics behind the substructural filters used. One observation that I'll make is that cheminformaticians would have done themselves rather more credit if, instead of implementing PAINS filters quite so enthusiastically, they'd first taken a more forensic look at how the filters had been derived. Singlet oxygen is an integral component of the AlphaScreen technology used in all six assays that formed the basis of the original PAINS study and the second post explored some of the consequences of this reliance on singlet oxygen. The third post was written as a 'get out of jail' card for those who need to get their use of PAINS past manuscript reviewers but, on a more serious note, it does pose some questions about how much we actually know about the behavior of PAINS compounds. The final PAINS post emphasized the need to make a clear distinction in science between what we know and what we believe. If we are unable (or unwilling) to demonstrate that we can do this in drug discovery then those who fund our work may conclude that the difficulties we face are of our own making.

There's actually a lot more to Sarajevo than dead Habsburgs and the city hosted the  1984 Winter Olympics. I took a taxi to the top of the bobsled run and walked back down to the city. Here are some photos. 



So I guess you're wondering where the 1984 bobsled run fits into drug discovery.  Ligand efficiency is, in essence, about slopes and intercepts and, like bobsledders, ligand efficiency advocates prefer not to think about intercepts.  I did two posts on ligand efficiency in 2015. The first post was a response to an article in which our criticism of ligand efficiency metrics was denounced as noise although, in the manner of Pravda, the article didn't actually say what the criticism was and I was left with the impression of a panicky batsman desperately trying to fend off a throat ball that had lifted sharply off just short of a length. The second post explored the link between ligand efficiency and homeopathy. 

I have described ligand efficiency as not even wrong and it also fits snugly into the voodoo thermodynamics category. Sometimes I think that if a coiled dog turd could be converted to molar energy units and scaled by coil radius then it would get adopted as a metric (which we might call 'scatological efficiency'). Voodoo thermodynamics is likely to feature more frequently in 2016 although I did manage one post on this topic in 2015. 

I took the train from Sarajevo to Mostar and the next four photos show a guy jumping, as is the local custom, off the reconstructed Stari Most into the Neretva River.


Now I guess you're wondering what a guy jumping off a bridge in Herzegovina has to do with molecular design and the quick answer is nothing at all. During the course of the year I jumped off a bridge of sorts (more accurately out of my applicability domain) with a post on Open Access and there'll hopefully be more of this sort of thing this year. This is probably a good point to wrap up the review of 2015 and I look forward to seeing you towards the end of the month when you'll meet the boys who cried wolf.