Why AlphaFold won’t revolutionise drug discovery

Derek Lowe in Chemistry World:

DeepMind’s AlphaFold team has been having quite a run of success in predicting protein structures. This has long been considered one of the truly difficult problems in computational biology, and AlphaFold has made extraordinary progress over the last year or two. This has culminated in the recent release of predicted structures for the great majority of the human proteome, which is the sort of thing that, ten years ago, would have sounded like the opening of a science fiction story.

I have no desire to take anything away from this success. It really is impressive. But some of the headlines have betrayed real misunderstandings about what’s been accomplished. First off, as I wrote here earlier this year, we have not made sudden huge leaps in understanding why proteins fold like they do. The AlphaFold people have made great progress in recognising different known protein folding motifs and assembling them into structures that are very often correct. Forming these coils, loops, and sheets is what proteins generally do, but ‘why?’ doesn’t enter into it. If we’d waited for an answer at that level, we’d be waiting for many more years.

More here.