Drug research is one of the most expensive, inefficient tasks in the world of science. Now, researchers are putting the power of artificial intelligence behind it. With smart computing, teams can avoid wasting resources on drugs that fail before reaching human trials.
Soon, patients worldwide may be receiving a new flu vaccine developed entirely by AI. The new drug is currently in the clinical trial phase of testing, but it looks extremely promising.
The team behind the AI-generated vaccine hails from Australia’s Flinders University. Together with an AI called “Smart Algorithms for Medical Discovery (SAM),” they aim to bring a vaccine to market that is more effective against the flu virus than traditional immunizations.
Before turning the AI on, the team primed it with chemical information. First, they told it what chemicals can help activate the immune system and which ones are ineffective. Once the system prepared the algorithm, the team used a separate program to compile trillions of random compounds using the selected chemicals.
From there, SAM did its thing. The AI system sorted through the dazzling number of compounds and analyzed them each individually to determine which ones may be promising. Once the Flinders team had a list of the top candidates, they whipped them up in the lab.
Researchers then tested the trial drugs on human blood cells to determine their efficacy. Unfortunately, not all of them were useful. However, one stands out. The team hopes the drug can help boost the efficiency of traditional flu vaccines.
Nikolai Petrovsky, a researcher on the vaccine, said, “If the vaccine is the engine of the car, what we’ve developed is a turbocharger that can be bolted onto the vaccine to make it more effective.”
The breakthrough comes at a time where people around the world are challenging both vaccines and artificial intelligence. As the World Health Organization lists “vaccine hesitancy” as a top threat to global health, scientists have differing opinions on how to use AI.
What isn’t debatable is the fact that thousands of people die from the flu every year. Even so, the WHO warns that humanity is still due for a true global influenza pandemic. With a threatening event like that looming on the horizon, the need for improved flu vaccines is apparent.
Fortunately, projects like this highlight the creative ways humans can continue to outsmart viruses. AI technology is still in its infancy. It is nearly impossible to imagine the breakthroughs that will occur a decade or two down the road.
Overall, by pairing AI drug development with traditional clinical trials, new treatments and vaccines will help shield the population from the world’s most deadly diseases and those that don’t even exist yet.