Bioinformatics and machine learning are helping researchers solve complex health problems in record time. Of immediate urgency is finding treatments or a cure for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19 disease. Fortunately, given the global pandemic, there are several promising studies underway.
But one study in particular stands out. An international consortium of researchers successfully used protein interaction studies to identify existing antiviral agents that have strong potential in treating or killing the novel coronavirus.
In laymen’s terms, the researchers made a map of novel coronavirus protein interactions between virus and host which then revealed many existing drugs that can be repurposed to treat or possibly cure COVID-19.
This video shows how proteins work to infect people with the novel coronavirus to create COVID-19 and related complications.
Specifically, the researchers in this study found “66 druggable human proteins or host factors targeted by 69 compounds: 29 FDA-approved drugs, 12 drugs in clinical trials, and 28 preclinical compounds.”
That is quite an astounding discovery. Narrowing the field so quickly and effectively enables efficient studies of each of those drugs simultaneously, separately and in combination, to advance treatments in the fastest possible time.
Indeed, some of those studies have already been completed and the next phase of testing is already planned out.
“Using this information, the Mount Sinai and Pasteur Institute teams performed viral assays, screening 47 of the 69 identified compounds along with an additional 28 molecules identified independently of the protein interaction experiments. Through this work, they found that translation inhibitors and ligands of the Sigma1 and Sigma2 receptors were particularly effective at reducing SARS-CoV-2 infectivity,” according to an article in GenomeWeb.
The exceedingly good news came very fast when compared to how drug and vaccine research is traditionally done. Bioinformatics, machine learning, genomics, and other new technologies make it possible for important research to be completed in record time. It's fortunate that this pandemic did not strike before these technologies existed.
But considering COVID-19 has infected over 2.3 million people and killed over 160,000 worldwide in a few short months, effective treatments, cures, and a vaccine still can’t come fast enough.
If you want to learn more, check out the study published in the journal Nature. Or, watch this video interview of senior study author Nevan Krogan, a professor of cellular molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco's Quantitative Biosciences Institute and the Gladstone Institute of Data Science and Biosciences.