While high lipophilicity tends to improve potency, its effects on pharmacokinetics (PK) are complex and often unfavorable. To predict clinical PK in early drug discovery, we built human physiologically based PK (PBPK) models integrating either (i) machine learning (ML)-predicted properties or (ii) discovery stage in vitro data. Our test set was composed of 12 challenging development compounds with high lipophilicity (mean calculated log P 4.2), low plasma-free fraction (50% of compounds with fu,p < 1%), and low aqueous solubility. Predictions focused on key human PK parameters, including plasma clearance (CL), volume of distribution at steady state (Vss), and oral bioavailability (%F). For predictions of CL, the ML inputs showed acceptable accuracy and slight underprediction bias [an average absolute fold error (AAFE) of 3.55; an average fold error (AFE) of 0.95]. Surprisingly, use of measured data only slightly improved accuracy but introduced an overprediction bias (AAFE = 3.35; AFE = 2.63). Predictions of Vss were more successful, with both ML (AAFE = 2.21; AFE = 0.90) and in vitro (AAFE = 2.24; AFE = 1.72) inputs showing good accuracy and moderate bias. The %F was poorly predicted using ML inputs [average absolute prediction error (AAPE) of 45%], and use of measured data for solubility and permeability improved this to 34%. Sensitivity analysis showed that predictions of CL limited the overall accuracy of human PK predictions, partly due to high nonspecific binding of lipophilic compounds, leading to uncertainty of unbound clearance. For accurate predictions of %F, solubility was the key factor. Despite current limitations, this work encourages further development of ML models and integration of their results within PBPK models to enable human PK prediction at the drug design stage, even before compounds are synthesized. Further evaluation of this approach with more diverse chemical types is warranted.
By Neil Parrott, Nenad Manevski, and Andrés Olivares-Morales