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Head of Institute: Prof. Oren Tirosh

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Intense bitterness of molecules: Machine learning for expediting drug discovery


Margulis, E. ; Dagan-Wiener, A. ; Ives, R. S. ; Jaffari, S. ; Siems, K. ; Niv, M. Y. Intense bitterness of molecules: Machine learning for expediting drug discovery. 2021, 19, 568 - 576.

Date Published:



Drug development is a long, expensive and multistage process geared to achieving safe drugs with high efficacy. A crucial prerequisite for completing the medication regimen for oral drugs, particularly for pediatric and geriatric populations, is achieving taste that does not hinder compliance. Currently, the aversive taste of drugs is tested in late stages of clinical trials. This can result in the need to reformulate, potentially resulting in the use of more animals for additional toxicity trials, increased financial costs and a delay in release to the market. Here we present BitterIntense, a machine learning tool that classifies molecules into “very bitter” or “not very bitter”, based on their chemical structure. The model, trained on chemically diverse compounds, has above 80% accuracy on several test sets. Our results suggest that about 25% of drugs are predicted to be very bitter, with even higher prevalence (~40%) in COVID19 drug candidates and in microbial natural products. Only ~10% of toxic molecules are predicted to be intensely bitter, and it is also suggested that intense bitterness does not correlate with hepatotoxicity of drugs. However, very bitter compounds may be more cardiotoxic than not very bitter compounds, possessing significantly lower QPlogHERG values. BitterIntense allows quick and easy prediction of strong bitterness of compounds of interest for food, pharma and biotechnology industries. We estimate that implementation of BitterIntense or similar tools early in drug discovery process may lead to reduction in delays, in animal use and in overall financial burden.