New AI tool can predict Covid-19 mutation and vaccine efficacy

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on February 07, 2021

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A research team from the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering developed a new model that can counter emergent variants of the novel coronavirus.

This artificial intelligence (AI) model can also help in speeding the process of vaccine development by analysing its efficacy.

The study stated that the method is easily adaptable to analyze potential mutations of the virus, ensuring the best possible vaccines are quickly identified. The researchers of the study believe that this will give an edge to the science community against evolving contagion.

This machine-learning model can accomplish vaccine design cycles that once took months or years in a matter of seconds and minutes, the study stated.

"This AI framework, applied to the specifics of this virus, can provide vaccine candidates within seconds and move them to clinical trials quickly to achieve preventive medical therapies without compromising safety," said Paul Bogdan, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at USC Viterbi and corresponding author of the study.

"Moreover, this can be adapted to help us stay ahead of the coronavirus as it mutates around the world." When applied to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes Covid-19 — the computer model quickly eliminated 95 per cent of the compounds that could have possibly treated the pathogen and pinpointed the best options, the study noted.

The AI-assisted method predicted 26 potential vaccines that would be effective against the coronavirus. From those, the scientists identified the best 11 from which to construct a multi-epitope vaccine, which can attack the spike proteins that the coronavirus uses to bind and penetrate a host cell.

Vaccines target the region — or epitope — of the contagion to disrupt the spike protein, neutralizing the ability of the virus to replicate, the study said.

Moreover, the engineers can construct a new multi-epitope vaccine for a new virus in less than a minute and validate its quality within an hour.

Scientists speculate that this method is particularly useful during this stage of the pandemic as the coronavirus begins to mutate in populations around the world.

The study comes at a time when AstraZeneca recently noted that its coronavirus may not be as effective against the South African variant of the virus.

The findings of the study were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Published on February 07, 2021

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