A new project will use the power of smartphones to search for COVID-19 treatments, Imperial College London announced on Wednesday.
Collaborating with the Vodafone Foundation, the Corona-AI (artificial intelligence) project will use the free DreamLab app, which crunches calculations using a smartphone’s computing power while its user sleeps.
“The app has already helped find potential new cancer drugs and is now aiming to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic,” according to the college’s website.
DreamLab uses machine learning on a mobile supercomputing network to analyze billions of combinations of existing drug, food-based molecules, and genetic interactions, slashing the time needed to make discoveries.
Data generated from the calculations will help scientists at the college identify existing drugs and food-based molecules with antiviral properties.
“We urgently need new treatments to tackle COVID-19,” said Dr. Kirill Veselkov from the college’s Surgery and Cancer Department, who is leading the research.
There are existing drugs out there that may be able to treat the virus, he said, urging that they be repurposed as we already know they are safe to use.
However, he added, complicated analyses using artificial intelligence should be done in order to figure out which molecule or combinations of molecules might be able to disrupt the virus when it is inside the body.
“We want to target not just one protein but the whole network that the virus creates in order to survive,” Veselkov said, adding that then it can be seen which drugs containing these molecules might be possible candidates to fight the virus.
According to Veselkov, doing so requires a huge amount of computing power, and DreamLab creates a supercomputer that enables researchers to do this important work in a relatively short timeframe.
“We have previously successfully used these methods to find ‘hyperfoods’ containing anti-cancer drug-like compounds, are now retooling them for the new disease,” said Michael Bronstein from the Department of Computing.
He stressed that eventually, the team hopes that multi-drug therapies with supportive diets could be prescribed to help COVID-19 patients recover.
George Hanna, who heads the Surgery and Cancer Department, explained: “These are unprecedented times that demand radical and unprecedented scientific solutions.”
Instead of looking for brand-new drug molecules, the project will search through a database of thousands of existing drugs that could be repurposed to fight COVID-19.
As these drugs are already known to be safe, they could be used much sooner than new drugs, say members of the project team.