Semantic text mining in early drug discovery for type 2 diabetes
Plos One – June 2020



Surveying the scientific literature is an important part of early drug discovery; and with the ever-increasing amount of biomedical publications it is imperative to focus on the most interesting articles. Here we present a project that highlights new understanding (e.g. recently discovered modes of action) and identifies potential drug targets, via a novel, data-driven text mining approach to score type 2 diabetes (T2D) relevance. We focused on monitoring trends and jumps in T2D relevance to help us be timely informed of important breakthroughs.


We extracted over 7 million n-grams from PubMed abstracts and then clustered around 240,000 linked to T2D into almost 50,000 T2D relevant ‘semantic concepts’. To score papers, we weighted the concepts based on co-mentioning with core T2D proteins. A protein’s T2D relevance was determined by combining the scores of the papers mentioning it in the five preceding years. Each week all proteins were ranked according to their T2D relevance. Furthermore, the historical distribution of changes in rank from one week to the next was used to calculate the significance of a change in rank by T2D relevance for each protein.


We show that T2D relevant papers, even those not mentioning T2D explicitly, were prioritised by relevant semantic concepts. Well known T2D proteins were therefore enriched among the top scoring proteins. Our ‘high jumpers’ identified important past developments in the apprehension of how certain key proteins relate to T2D, indicating that our method will make us aware of future breakthroughs. In summary, this project facilitated keeping up with current T2D research by repeatedly providing short lists of potential novel targets into our early drug discovery pipeline.

For a selection of proteins the curves show the strength of their association to T2D over the last 10 years. The top 5 are coloured in blue. The green curves show the 2 proteins that improved their rank 5 times or more and the redish curves show the proteins that improved their ranks 10 times or more.