How AI is finding drugs to treat coronavirus

Artificial intelligence companies are helping speed up the
process of discovering which drugs —existing or new —can be
used to treat coronavirus.

“It still makes the hair stand up at the back of my neck,
thinking about it,†says Peter Richardson, vice president of
pharmacology at BenevolentAI, describing the moment when he
realised that baricitinib, a drug previously used for the treatment
of rheumatoid arthritis, could be an effective treatment for

The team at BenevolentAI, a UK company that uses machine
learning to aid drug discovery, had been searching through their
database of all existing, approved drugs, searching for one that
could be repurposed to treat the novel coronavirus.

“Most drug companies had been looking at antiviral drugs,
but we approached it from the other end and looked at what
processes used by the virus could be disrupted,†says

Protein kinases — enzymes that speed up chemical reactions
in the body — seemed a promising area to look into. Some of
these regulate the way substances can enter human cells —
disrupt them, and the virus might be unable to get into the lung,
heart and kidney cells it has been so prone to invading.

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By Maija Palmer
Wednesday 15 April 2020