We are probably all familiar with some of the more stupid suggestions to treat Covid-19! However, there have also been some more rational suggestions which, unfortunately, haven’t all lived up to their early promise. Nonetheless, the scientific community have been working tirelessly to find or develop effective drug treatments for patients suffering from Covid-19.
Drug development normally takes many years with companies spending up to 10 years developing and testing a new drug before it comes on the market. However, even with extreme speed this process is still measured in years. Given the urgency that surrounds the development of treatments for Covid-19, ‘years’ just isn’t good enough!
So new approaches have come into the spotlight. A few companies are working to harness Artificial Intelligence (AI) to identify drugs that may be repurposed to fight Covid-19, with some early success. AI is the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think like humans in learning and problem-solving. AI is based on the principle that human intelligence can be defined in a way that a machine can easily mimic it and execute tasks, from the most simple to those that are more complex. In the 2000s early versions of AI-driven telemedicine, called ‘medical expert systems’ were being discussed as the next healthcare revolution. As early as 2005, a company called Biovista used early forms of AI to match any and all drugs against any and all body mechanisms, pathways, diseases, and clinical outcomes.
When Covid-19 hit, the company began applying AI approaches through Biovista’s Project Prodigy AI platform to find treatments that would mitigate disease complications that can arise post infection. They have recently announced that they have identified the antifibrinolytic agent aprotinin and the angiotensin II receptor blocker irbesartan as having potential for reducing the effects of cytokine storm and high viral load associated with Covid-19.
Biovista has also identified caplacizumab and ezetimibe/atorvastatin as potential treatments to address blood clotting and inflammation related to Covid-19. The AI platform has also identified two bioactive compounds, lycopene and vitamin D, as potentially useful in treating Covid-19.
These drugs are part of a ‘rolling release’ of possible drugs identified by Project Prodigy that could potentially be repositioned for Covid-19. It has been said that Covid-19 has rewritten the book on infectious diseases.
Treating it has proven especially difficult because it causes multiple complications affecting nearly every organ system. Their drug-AI helps find the ‘needle in the haystack’, and the company are optimistic that they have found several of them already.
It should be noted that typical machine learning AI isn’t designed for a disease like Covid-19. As a spokesperson for Biovista says: ‘Machine learning only looks backwards based on what you’ve trained it in. If you change a tiny variable, you have to train it again.’ In contrast to traditional machine learning AI, Project Prodigy is a ‘machine building AI that enables us to build, interrogate and test possible and unanticipated scenarios.’ It’s being used to map all known drugs against every possible body mechanism in which SARS-CoV-2 operates to cause complications.
The company have committed to continue to publicly release data on potential drugs for Covid-19 for scientists and clinicians to test ‘until we collectively’ solve Covid-19. Furthermore the company says: ‘It’s the socially responsible thing to do, with some really badass science and AI behind to support the data. We are also starting conversations with relevant companies to test these drugs against Covid-19,’