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The Covid-19 pandemic has had a worldwide impact on how we live and work. Public events have been cancelled, schools are closed, and millions of people have made the sudden and unexpected transition to working from home. However, there is a lot of work being done to combat this virus by experts around the world. 

AI (Artificial Intelligence) is used in a range of different situations to discover patterns in data that would take a long time, or even be impossible, for humans to calculate. This is why various medical and technological companies are working together to try to accelerate the development of treatments for those suffering with Covid-19.

British company Exscientia are at the forefront of AI drug development, and are working as part of a transatlantic partnership in the battle against Covid-19. They have launched a joint initiative with the UK’s national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source; and Calibr, a division of American company Scripps Research.

Diamond IO3 Robot for Immunology research. SeaBro IT

The robot on I03, Diamond’s high-containment beamline for infectious materials. This robot transfers the samples so that the process is completely automated, requiring no human contact. Image:

With this partnership, researchers have gained access to the Calibr’s world-leading collection of 15,000 molecules which are clinically ready. This includes medication currently in use, compounds that have already been shown to be safe in humans, and promising compounds which have passed pre-clinical safety studies. This collection has funding support from the Bill & Mellinda Gates Foundation.

Exscientia will be able to rapidly screen this collection using its advanced biosensor platforms, and compare them against key viral drug targets of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus which causes Covid-19). These targets include vital components for viral reproduction, such as the 3CL protease and the NSP12-NSP7-NSP8 RNA polymerase complex, and the SPIKE protein which acts with the ACE2 receptor on human cells which is how the virus enters cells.

Dr Martin Redhead, Head of Quantitative Pharmacology at Exscientia, commented: “the initial priority is to search for any existing drug that can be repurposed to protect the human population. Then as we move forward we can design superior molecules with our AI-Design systems to work even more effectively against the virus”

By using high-quality molecules that have already been cleared for medical use, the speed of finding a safe treatment will be increased. The team intend to find an existing medication which can be used to treat the Covid-19 spread, and then refine this drug using AI research.

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A sample plate on I24 – each of the small compartments contains a minute sample to be studies. I24 is one of Diamond’s 5 macromolecular crystallography beamlines. Crystallography is used to pinpoint the atomic structure of materials. Image:

This isn’t the first time Exscientia has used Artificial Intelligence to develop clinical drugs. Earlier this year, a drug they created in partnership with Japan’s Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma was one of the first to reach clinical trials after being develop using AI. DSP-1181 has been initiated in Japan for the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

By using AI, the exploratory research phase of developing this drug took less than 12 months, rather than the typical average of 4.5 years when using conventional research techniques.

As these clinical trials progress medication to general use, the use of AI to develop medical treatments will be proven and will become much more widespread. This will allow for drugs to be developed more quickly than before, improving treatment and ultimately saving lives.

You can find out more about Exscientia’s project to find Covid-19 treatments here.

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Written by
Fraser S
in News. Staff Articles.

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