Researchers release the first vaccine fully developed by AI program

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digital model influenza
Digital model of influenza virus (Credits - Flickr)
  • A team of researchers at Flinders University in South Australia has created a vaccine that is considered to be the first human drug to be fully designed by artificial intelligence
  • this vaccine was independently designed by an AI software known as SAM or Search Algorithm for Ligands.
  • A program was developed known as the Synthetic Chemist that generated a vast number of different chemical compounds which were fed to SAM.
  • This vaccine was tested on animals to confirm that it boosted the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine

A team of researchers at Flinders University in South Australia has created a vaccine that is considered to be the first human drug to be fully designed by artificial intelligence. Drugs have been previously designed with the help of computers. However, this vaccine was independently designed by an AI software known as SAM or Search Algorithm for Ligands.

Nikolai Petrovsky, professor at Flinders University who also led the development said that its name has been derived from the task it was assigned to perform which was searching the universe for all possible compounds for a good human drug also known as a ligand. Petrovsky, also a Research Director for an Australian company, Vaxine added that the AI software was first taught about the set of compounds which activate the immune system in human beings and a set of compounds which do not. The AI then worked on itself for what separated the two classes of compounds.

Another program was developed known as the synthetic chemist that generated a vast number of different chemical compounds which were fed to SAM. It then went through all of the compounds to find a good drug suitable for the human immune system.

The top candidates identified by SAM were then tested on human blood cells by the team for checking if they actually worked or not. This confirmed that not only SAM found human immune drugs but they were better than the ones currently present. They were then tested on animals to confirm that it boosted the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine. This technique not only saves millions of dollars, but it also saves the time needed for a normal drug discovery process. It received funding from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a part of NIH.

This vaccine is developed at a time of high influenza-related cases in Australia. In 2019 till now, 96 thousand cases have been confirmed in Australia, with nearly 10 thousand in WA. Petrovsky hopes that this vaccine will be more effective than the present ones and also replace the standard seasonal flu shot. For Flinders University, this is not the first time as it had developed the first swine flu vaccine back in 2009.

However, it is challenging for research groups to receive new funding. Funding bodies in Australia direct the vast amount of funding to big research institutes. This makes it very difficult for researchers outside these big groups to compete and stay relevant. As a result of which they often have to look overseas. In this case, Petrovsky submitted an application to NIH in the United States and have received 10 grants so far, with supplements totaling 50 million dollars. He felt that the US system values innovative, futuristic research while Australian bodies are highly conservative.

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