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16 April, 2020 - 15:15 By Tony Quested

Cambridge AI top-ranks likeliest drugs to effectively fight coronavirus

A revolutionary systems pharmacology platform powered by artificial intelligence has identified the top candidate drugs highly likely to be effective in treating COVID-19 disease.

Cambridge Science Park technology business AI VIVO’s highly optimised prediction engine took just 15 days to rank 90,000 candidate compounds in order of efficacy – identifying a shortlist of 31 candidate drugs already approved and in use for other human diseases/conditions or in Phase II/Phase III clinical trials. 

The company has already started talks with the UK Government and others to initiate trials of the approved drugs. These Top 31 drugs comprise 0.05 per cent of the ranked candidates and the list shows promising overlap with existing scientific research. 

Five of the top-ranked drugs on the list, that have already entered clinical trials for COVID-19, include:-

  • Chloroquine, the anti-malarial drug 
  • Dexamethasone, a commonly used corticosteroid
  • Sirolimus, an immuno-suppressant drug
  • Tacrolimus, an immuno-suppressant drug
  • Thalidomide, a cancer treatment drug.

For the well-known drug Chloroquine, the AI VIVO system identifies how the drug’s efficacy could be improved and side effects moderated by combining the drug with other compounds from AI VIVO’s Top 31 to create a more effective treatment. 

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, scientists have not yet had the time to identify its precise targets and mechanisms. In this situation, the traditional target-orientated approach favoured by the pharmaceutical industry will be slow, expensive, and has a high failure rate.

However, in contrast, AI VIVO specialises in a powerful phenotypic approach to drug discovery that still works when little is known about disease specific targets. 

AI VIVO started by building a phenotypic model of the impact of  COVID-19 on the lungs using real samples from COVID-19 infected cells – and it is this unique technology that has enabled AI VIVO to identify unexpected compounds that may treat COVID-19 by moderating the undesirable phenotypic changes that it causes. 

Their results have far exceeded expectations, offering additional promising candidates for further investigation and AI VIVO plans to test combinations of drugs from their top ranking, to take advantage of their synergistic modes of action to achieve greater treatment efficacy. 

AI VIVO founder and CEO, Dr Peyman Gifani, explains: “We are a team of molecular biologists, system pharmacologists, control engineers and machine learning experts. 

“We believe identifying phenotypic changes in disease states is key to finding effective therapies. There is little known about the COVID-19 virus itself, its effect on the host tissue and potential targets for discovery research. 

“This limits our knowledge about the best targets for COVID-19 and means that AI VIVO's phenotypic approach could provide the most powerful, logical and rapid pathway to COVID-19 drug discovery.

“We are now in the process of extending our analysis to wider combinations of treatment strategies. This will lead to the identification of combinations of top ranked drugs that, together, will be better than any single drug on its own.”

Serial entrepreneur and government adviser, David Cleevely, who is also one of AI VIVO’s lead investors, says: “We are already talking to a number of government agencies and pharmaceutical organisations about testing the top ranked drugs on our list which could prove to be even more significant and make a real difference in the fight against COVID-19. 

“Now that we have the crucial data, it’s essential that we get on with testing these drugs as quickly as possible. And, to that end, we’d be delighted to hear from anyone interested in partnering or collaborating with us.”

AI VIVO is keen to help pharmaceutical companies prioritise their own research. For the late clinical stage (Phase II and Phase III) candidates identified in the top rank, AI VIVO can help pharmaceutical or biotech proprietors speed up their drug discovery process, test the right compounds and identify effective drug combinations for COVID-19 treatment. 

Pharma companies, research institutions and health organisations looking for medical insights or to partner and test the identified compounds to demonstrate their efficacy should contact covid19 [at]

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