In order to help combat the unprecedented public health crisis the world is facing with COVID-19, BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Framework Programme funded a small number of COVID-19 projects for innovative diagnostic tools and more effective drugs and vaccines.
Drawing on a wealth of drug discovery and development expertise from H3D, in collaboration with partners from Federal University of Goiás and Russian Academy of Sciences, the Centre was awarded one of seven South African COVID-19 research grants, valued at over R30 million.
Since the beginning of 2020, an extraordinary number of investigational programmes and clinical trials have been initiated in a concerted effort to identify therapeutic treatments for COVID-19. Typically, de novo development of antiviral therapies requires 10-15 years. In order to shorten this timeframe, repurposing drugs that are clinically evaluated in other therapeutic areas represents one of the most practical strategies for the rapid identification and deployment of treatments for emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19.
Towards this end, the repurposing of several approved therapies, including antivirals, has been the focus of current clinical investigations. While these targeted repurposing strategies provide potentially rapid trajectories towards an approved treatment, additional therapies for SARS-CoV-2 are nevertheless still required to enhance clinical efficacy, contribute to a global drug pipeline and address the potential emergence of viral resistance. Additionally, relatively new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual screening can be harnessed to dramatically reduce the typical timeframe to develop new drugs by allowing rapid identification of active compounds with appropriate pharmacokinetic (PK) and toxicological properties, thus shortening the drug discovery process and reducing costs.
A cell infected with particles (artificially coloured yellow) of the SARS-CoV-2 variant called B.1.1.7. Photo credit: National Institutes of Health/Science Photo Library.
H3D's current project on COVID-19 and AI, has the potential to transform drug discovery from a slow, sequential and high-risk process to a fast, integrated model with reduced risk of failure, finely-tuned to expedite the delivery of novel drug candidates for COVID-19. Combining these two complementary strategies – drug repurposing and AI - will help shorten the timeframe of bringing new treatments to market, by using drugs that are clinically evaluated in other therapeutic areas. This approach represents one of the most practical strategies for the rapid identification and deployment of treatments for emerging infectious diseases such as COVID-19.