Supercomputer finds 77 drugs that could halt coronavirus spread

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Scientists have enlisted the help of a supercomputer to fight back against the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. Researchers from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory just published the results of a project in which they tasked the massive IBM supercomputer known as Summit with finding the most effective existing drugs that could combat COVID-19.

The paper, which was published in the journal ChemRxiv, focuses on the method the virus uses to bind to cells. Like other viruses, the novel coronavirus uses a spike protein to inject cells. Using Summit with an algorithm to investigate which drugs could bind to the protein and prevent the virus from doing its duty, the researchers now have a list of 77 drugs that show promise.

Starting with over 8,000 compounds, Summit’s incredible power shortened the time of the experiment dramatically, ruling out the vast majority of possible medications before settling on 77 drugs which it ranked based on how effective they would likely be at halting the virus in the human body.

“Summit was needed to rapidly get the simulation results we needed. It took us a day or two whereas it would have taken months on a normal computer,” Jeremy Smith, co-author of the research, said in a statement.

“Our results don’t mean that we have found a cure or treatment for the coronavirus. We are very hopeful, though, that our computational findings will both inform future studies and provide a framework that experimentalists will use to further investigate these compounds. Only then will we know whether any of them exhibit the characteristics needed to mitigate this virus.”

These promising compounds could now play a role in developing new treatments or even a highly-effective vaccine that would keep the virus from taking root inside a person’s body. Right now, our best defense against the virus is social distancing, but a vaccine or treatment to ease symptoms and shorten recovery time would go a long way toward getting us on track for a return to normalcy.

Going forward, the researchers plan to run the experiment again with a new, more accurate model of the protein spike that the virus uses. It’s possible that the new model will change which drugs are most effective against the virus and hopefully shorten the road to a treatment option. It will still be many months before we have a vaccine available, but scientists are hard at work on those solutions.

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