AI battles Covid-19

As has been reported previously in these blog posts, AI has helped develop some brand new drugs. We now have a pandemic on our hands and there has never been such intense, rapid and global research to find new drugs which will be an effective vaccine or medication to help with the symptoms of the virus.

AI is helping with this. A UK company based in Oxford called Exscientia is using AI to help trawl through 15,000 existing drugs held by the Californian Scripps research Institute.

Oxford’s old adversary in the boat race; Cambridge, has another company carrying out similar research. Healx, set up by co-inventor of Viagra Dr David Brown after stiff research , has reconfigured their AI system to provide a three pronged attack on the problem. To analyse all current literature on Covid-19, to study the DNA and structure of the virus and finally search for the most suitable drugs.
He comments that AI is proving much faster than the 45 years of research it took him to bring three drugs to market. Healx’s algo is already giving results but its early days yet and there are many more compounds and drugs to analyse.

Researchers working with AI are using it for two functions: to identify the suitability of existing drugs (the fastest route to get something usable) and to find a brand new drug. A new drug has to go through many safety tests before it can be used on patients so its the longer route.

The greatest problem is getting accurate data sets to train the algo. These can be stashed away in diverse places but lockdown and Zoom are making work for idle hands with collaborative research spanning the world.

There have been two early findings:

The virus may affect brain tissue. It seems that people lose a sense of taste.

There is a prediction it could affect both male and female reproductive sytems.

A drug called Baricitinib has been identified by BenevolentAI as a candidate to help the lung from being infected by the virus. Baricitinib is an approved drug for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

We have a new virus in Covid-19 and we also have a new technology in AI, let us hope AI can shorten the time it takes to find suitable medications.

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