AI-powered drug development against coronavirus outbreak

Coronavirus treatments: Chloroquine, vaccines and the drugs fighting COVID-19

The most promising coronavirus vaccine candidates, treatments and the cutting-edge drugs being developed to counter the pandemic. COVID-19, the potentially fatal respiratory illness first detected in December 2019, has spread across the globe with unseen speed and ferocity. Since it was first discovered as the causative agent of the new disease, scientists have been racing to get a better understanding of the virus’ genetic makeup, how it infects cells and how to effectively treat it. There’s no cure, and medical specialists can only treat the symptoms of the disease. Many different treatment options have been proposed and some older drugs seem to be associated with positive outcomes — but much more work is required. However, the long-term strategy to combat COVID-19, which has spread to every continent on Earth besides Antarctica, is to develop a vaccine.

Developing new vaccines takes time, and they must be rigorously tested and confirmed safe via clinical trials before they can be routinely used in humans. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US, has frequently stated that a vaccine is at least a year to 18 months away. Experts agree there’s a way to go yet.


Potential COVID-19 therapeutics currently in development

Those who have worked in the regulatory, research, development or manufacturing area for drug products have most likely been drawn to read the many scientific and technical advances that are being fast-tracked at present in response to the current global emergency. Caused by SARS-CoV-2, the COVID-19 coronavirus has spread across the globe at a rapid pace.

For those in the industry who comprehend the lengthy and expensive process of drug discovery, testing, and trials, the speed, and urgency at which the pharmaceutical industry is moving to develop an effective vaccine and treatment is something to be proud of. It is now understood by researchers, companies, and regulators that while ensuring safety, efficacy and quality is still of critical importance, speed is now paramount. The drug Favilavi, which was the first approved coronavirus drug in China, has reportedly shown efficacy in treating COVID-19 safely in a clinical trial involving 70 patients.

An intranasal COVID-19 vaccine (similar to NasoVAX) is being developed by US-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, Altimmune. Animal studies are being progressed.


Understanding Glycan’s in COVID-19 Drug Design

Ongoing vaccine development efforts have primarily focused on the coronavirus transmembrane spike (S) glycoprotein, which extends from the viral surface and mediates host cell entry. A critical step in this crosstalk between the virus and the host cell is the binding of S-glycoprotein to the ACE2 receptor on the surface of human cells. Not surprisingly, this virus-receptor binding affinity is under intensive study.

Out of a dozen or more potential drugs to treat SARS-CoV-2 infection already in clinical trials, one well known antimalarial drug, chloroquine, and its alternative hydroxychloroquine, have hit the front pages. Both compounds efficiently inhibit SARS-Cov-2 infection in vitro by increasing the pH of intracellular organelles and altering the glycosylation profiles of the ACE2 receptor, thus interfering with host-cell entry and subsequent virus replication. All of these mechanisms show the importance of understanding the role of glycosylation for the development of potential new treatments and especially for the development of new vaccines. Furthermore, different vaccines induce different glycosylation patterns of antibodies, which affect their ability to activate effector functions and provide protection against future infection.

We need to intensify studies on the role of glycosylation and understand the importance of these complicated structures if we want to have success in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the COVID-19.


AI-powered drug development against coronavirus outbreak

AI can spot patterns in data and make predictions, and the hope is these tools could identify drug prospects to test on humans within months. As coronaviruses such as COVID-19 mutate, a drug candidate will have to be effective against a broad spectrum of possible forms. Work is now underway worldwide, from Hong Kong to Israel and the US, to use AI in pursuit of a vaccine. Insilico Medicine Inc., Iktos, Vir Biotechnology Inc., Moderna Therapeutics and Atomwise are among the companies employing AI to discover potential coronavirus medicines. Estimates vary, with the consensus saying it will take at least a year, possibly longer, to develop an effective vaccine and bring it to market.

Iktos, a company specialized in artificial intelligence (AI) for novel drug design and SRI International (SRI), a research center headquartered in Menlo Park, California, has announced that the companies have entered into a collaboration agreement designed to accelerate discovery and development of novel antiviral therapies. Under the collaboration, Iktos’ generative modeling technology will be combined with SRI’s SynFini™, a fully automated end-to-end synthetic chemistry system, to design novel, optimized compounds and accelerate the identification of drug candidates to treat multiple viruses, including influenza and the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19).


FDA approves anti-malarial drugs for corona treatment

The Food and Drug Administration on Sunday issued emergency authorization for experimental coronavirus treatments using chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, anti-malaria drugs touted by President Donald Trump despite inconclusive clinical proof of their efficacy. 

The Department of Health and Human Services said Sunday hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine products can be distributed and prescribed by doctors through the Strategic National Stockpile “to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.”

HHS said Germany’s Sandoz has already given 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the Strategic National Stockpile, the federal government’s inventory of medical supplies for public health emergencies, while Bayer has donated a million doses of chloroquine.


Favilavir, the first approved coronavirus drug in China

The National Medical Products Administration of China has approved the use of Favilavir, an anti-viral drug, as a treatment for coronavirus. The drug has reportedly shown efficacy in treating the disease with minimal side effects in a clinical trial involving 70 patients. The clinical trial is being conducted in Shenzhen, Guangdong province.