Nature Communications

Transfer learning enables the molecular transformer to predict regio- and stereoselective reactions on carbohydrates

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Organic synthesis methodology enables the synthesis of complex molecules and materials used in all fields of science and technology and represents a vast body of accumulated knowledge optimally suited for deep learning. While most organic reactions involve distinct functional groups and can readily be learned by deep learning models and chemists alike, regio- and stereoselective transformations are more challenging because their outcome also depends on functional group surroundings. Here, we challenge the Molecular Transformer model to predict reactions on carbohydrates where regio- and stereoselectivity are notoriously difficult to predict. We show that transfer learning of the general patent reaction model with a small set of carbohydrate reactions produces a specialized model returning predictions for carbohydrate reactions with remarkable accuracy. We validate these predictions experimentally with the synthesis of a lipid-linked oligosaccharide involving regioselective protections and stereoselective glycosylations. The transfer learning approach should be applicable to any reaction class of interest.