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AI identifies safe drugs that could immediately be used to treat Covid-19

Image credit: Marilyn Gould - Dreamstime

An AI-driven drug discovery platform has identified nine drugs that already exist which could help fight the spread of Covid-19.

Six of the drugs have already been approved for use in humans, while three have been withdrawn. Another nine have already been tested in clinical trials for other purposes.

Gero, the firm which runs the AI platform, believes that clinical trials on the effectiveness of the drugs for fighting the disease should begin “immediately”.

The AI works by poring through a vast database of all known drugs and their molecular structure. It then identifies those that would be able to disrupt replication of the coronavirus.

Some of the drugs have been well known for decades and approved in many countries for human or veterinary use. Some of them even have confirmed effects against SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, while others have not been known previously for any related effects.

The drugs found to be potentially effective include:

  • Niclosamide, an orally consumed drug used to treat parasitic infections, which has previously been approved in Italy, the US (now withdrawn), France, and other countries.
  • Nitazoxanide, an anti-parasitic and broad-spectrum anti-viral prescription drug that is used in medicine for the treatment of various types of infections. This is already approved for use in the US, India, Mexico and other countries.
  • Afatinib, a prescription medicine approved in the US for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer.
  • Ixazomib, a prescription medicine used to treat multiple myeloma in patients who have received at least one prior treatment for their multiple myeloma and has already been approved in the US, EU and other countries.

Gero said Niclosamide and Nitazoxanide have been recently recommended to be tried as Covid-19 treatment in patients.

Last week, US president Donald Trump made headlines when he suggested that anti-malarial drug chloroquine could be a “gamechanger” in fighting the spread of the coronavirus.

This statement was criticised by some medical research experts for jumping the gun on a drug that has not been tested as a way to tackle Covid-19. There has so far only been anecdotal evidence about its effectiveness.

Gero said that while some of the drugs with anti-coronavirus potential have been approved for use on humans for other medical indications, it strongly urges against self-treatment.

Last week, the first supercomputer capable of reaching a quintillion operations per second - the IBM AC922 Summit - identified 77 compounds with the potential to be used to fight the coronavirus responsible for the ongoing pandemic.

Scientists used the machine - usually employed by researchers to perform extremely complex tasks, such as climate simulations - to identify several dozen drug compounds that could have the potential to fight the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic by stopping the virus from infecting host cells.

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