In recent years there have been several efforts to generate sensitivity profiles of collections of genomically characterized cell lines to panels of candidate therapeutic compounds. These data provide the basis for the development of in silico models of sensitivity based on cellular, genetic, or expression biomarkers of cancer cells. However, a remaining challenge is an efficient way to identify accurate sets of biomarkers to validate. To address this challenge, we developed methodology using gene-expression profiles of human cancer cell lines to predict the responses of these cell lines to a panel of compounds.


We developed an iterative weighting scheme which, when applied to elastic net, a regularized regression method, significantly improves the overall accuracy of predictions, particularly in the highly sensitive response region. In addition to application of these methods to actual chemical sensitivity data, we investigated the effects of sample size, number of features, model sparsity, signal-to-noise ratio, and feature correlation on predictive performance using a simulation framework, particularly for situations where the number of covariates is much larger than sample size. While our method aims to be useful in therapeutic discovery and understanding of the basic mechanisms of action of drugs and their targets, it is generally applicable in any domain where predictions of extreme responses are of highest importance.

Availability and implementation

The iterative and other weighting algorithms were implemented in R. The code is available at The CTRP data are available at and the Sanger data at

Supplementary information

Supplementary data are available at Bioinformatics online.

This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (