Health Life

Using AI to navigate out of a COVID treatment supply issue

Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

It’s 2021, and the world has a safe vaccine for COVID-19 as well as drugs to treat the disease. But now, we face a serious problem: How do we make billions of doses of the medicines?

Researchers fear that the same issues with supply chains that caused toilet paper shortages at the beginning of the pandemic in the United States may result in the same problem with the fine chemicals needed to synthesize COVID-19 therapeutics and vaccines.

Now, a University of Michigan team of medicinal chemists have used artificial intelligence to find alternative pharmaceutical building blocks for 12 drugs under investigation to treat COVID-19.

“The WHO has started to discuss who will be the first to receive vaccinations for COVID-19, should they become available,” said U-M researcher Tim Cernak, an assistant professor of medicinal chemistry and chemistry.

“Just to hit that front group—the essential workers, the sick, the elderly—we will need 4.2 billion doses of a vaccine, because the dosing regimen is at least two doses per person and there will be wastage. For us synthetic chemists, the folks who actually produce the medicine, that number is mind boggling. We’re in a crisis.”

For example, the researchers say the only approved for treating COVID-19 is remdesivir. The drug, an antiviral nucleotide, had an availability of just 5,000 when the outbreak started. As of the week of July 13, the United States is adding approximately 60,000 cases of coronavirus infection a day.

Cernak and his lab were approached by chemical supplier MilliporeSigma to devise solutions to the supply issue. Cernak and his team combed the federal clinical trials database for drugs currently being considered for treatment of COVID-19, and then used the software Synthia to determine new ways to piece the drugs