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NSF Funds AI Covid-19 Drug Combo Simulation

Synthetic biology

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

2 Mar. 2021. National Science Foundation is funding a new system that uses artificial intelligence to find optimal combinations of current drugs to treat Covid-19 disease. The agency awarded the one-year $256,000 project to VeriSIM Life Inc. in San Francisco to adapt the company’s current bio-simulation technology to quickly identify combinations of therapies to treat this increasingly complex disease.

VeriSIM Life is a three year-old company that applies machine learning and other computational tools for predicting a drug candidate’s efficacy before subjecting the drug to live animals and humans for testing. The company says the pharma industry has about an eight percent success rate taking new drugs to market. With advance simulations of a proposed drug’s efficacy, says VeriSIM Life, a company could save considerable time and expense of animal testing and human clinical trials, instead of the current trial-and-error approach.

VeriSIM Life proposes adapting its technology to find optimal combinations of current drugs to treat Covid-19 infections. That technology, called BIOiSIM, uses machine learning, an A.I. technique where large volumes of data train problem-solving statistical models or algorithms. In this case, the models are based on data documenting biochemical interactions with human and animal physiology, with those models simulating toxicity and effectiveness of proposed therapies before they’re used with animals or humans. In a paper published in June 2020, a VeriSIM Life team demonstrated the BIOiSIM technology with efficacy simulations of narcotic pain drugs delivered through skin patches rather than oral drugs or injections.

For Covid-19, the company is building whole-body simulation models to test combinations of existing drugs, either fully approved or authorized by FDA, as well as experimental drugs to minimize infections, viral loads, and replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The models will simulate drug activities with target cells and tissue, expression levels, and interactions with signaling pathways to prevent infection and inflammation. The end result is a technology to match an individual’s condition with drug combinations and dosage levels for best treating Covid-19 infections.

Drug combinations needed for a complex disease

VeriSIM Life says the need is growing for more combinations of therapies to treat an increasingly complex disease. Not only does Covid-19 affect many different organs and functions, but new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are also emerging, which will make treating infections more difficult than before. As a result, the need will likely grow for combinations of drugs to treat Covid-19 infections.

“Leveraging the BIOiSIM to identify and deliver multi-targeted therapies for the treatment of Covid-19,” says VeriSIM Life founder and CEO Jo Varshney in a company statement released through Business Wire, “is one of the many ways we are looking to advance drug development in partnership with pharma and biotech companies.” Varshney adds that “a lesson from this pandemic is that it won’t be the last and we have the opportunity to leverage BIOiSIM to create a scalable pandemic readiness platform that researchers can use for faster, accurate, and efficacious predictions.”

The NSF award is part of NSF’s Small Business Innovation Research or SBIR program in what the agency calls America’s Seed Fund. SBIR grants are set aside for small companies in the U.S. from NSF’s other research funds. SBIR awards are usually divided into two phases, with phase 1 for proving technical and economic feasibility, while phase 2 advances the technology closer to the marketplace. The VeriSIM Life award is a phase 1 grant.

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