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Workshop: Adaptive Experimental Design and Active Learning in the Real World

Accelerating Black-Box Molecular Property Optimization by Adaptively Learning Sparse Subspaces

Farshud Sorourifar · Thomas Banker · Joel Paulson


Molecular property optimization (MPO) problems are inherently challenging since they are formulated over discrete, unstructured spaces and the labeling process involves expensive simulations or experiments, which fundamentally limits the amount of available data. Bayesian optimization (BO), which is a powerful and popular framework for efficient optimization of noisy, black-box objective functions (e.g., measured property values), thus is a potentially attractive framework for MPO. To apply BO to MPO problems, one must select a structured molecular representation that enables construction of a probabilistic surrogate model. Many molecular representations have been developed, however, they are all high-dimensional, which introduces important challenges in the BO process – mainly because the curse of dimensionality makes it difficult to define and perform inference over a suitable class of surrogate models. This challenge has been recently addressed by learning a lower-dimensional encoding of a SMILE or graph representation of a molecule in an unsupervised manner and then performing BO in the encoded space. In this work, we show that such methods have a tendency to “get stuck,” which we hypothesize occurs since the mapping from the encoded space to property values is not necessarily well-modeled by a Gaussian process. We argue for an alternative approach that combines numerical molecular descriptors with a sparse axis-aligned Gaussian process model, which is capable of rapidly identifying sparse subspaces that are most relevant to modeling the unknown property function. We demonstrate that our proposed method substantially outperforms existing MPO methods on a variety of benchmark and real-world problems. Specifically, we show that our method can routinely find near-optimal molecules out of a set of more than > 100k alternatives within 100 or fewer expensive queries.

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