Alibaba Cloud supercomputing shortens COVID-19 drug repurposing - The EE

Alibaba Cloud supercomputing shortens COVID-19 drug repurposing

Lurong Pan of GHDDI

Enabled by Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI) has launched a Free AI Virtual Screening Service for COVID-19. The aim is to facilitate COVID-19 drug discovery effort globally.

The free, web-based research engine provides researchers with an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered tool for virtual screening computation. It is said to be powerful enough to support the prediction of SARS-CoV2 relevant targets binding the phenotypic properties of any query compound with just one click.

As a result of Alibaba Cloud’s high-performance computing (HPC) resources and GHDDI’s artificial intelligence capabilities, the computation process is accelerated exponentially. 

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has put GHDDI at the forefront of drug repurposing research to tackle the new coronavirus. Since the launch of the GHDDI COVID-19 information sharing portal hosted on Alibaba Cloud in January 2020, GHDDI has received 130 research applications worldwide, and partnered with 10 research institutions to investigate 9,255 antiviral substances, 256 anti-corona active small molecules and biological agents, and 18 high potential drug candidates recommended by AI through data mining from historical records.

Wet lab experiments were soon followed using AI-shortlisted high potential compounds, and researchers constantly discovered compounds with significant inhibitory effects on the new coronavirus in vitro. The portal also provides real-time statistical analysis of COVID-19 global research progress, with daily automatic updates, powered by a natural language processing AI engine.

This AI engine can generate a report that covers over 1,000 current worldwide clinical trials of 840 small molecule drugs, 306 biologics and 84 vaccines (as of 7/22/2020) against COVID-19 and hundreds of anti-SARS-CoV2 active compounds from in vitro experiments by research groups from all over the world.

“The high-performance computing power provided by Alibaba Cloud has significantly enhanced our drug discovery process by speeding up molecular docking and deep leaning computations, which may shorten the time needed to find a cure,” says Dr. Lurong Pan, senior investigator, AI platform lead of GHDDI.

“As we are racing against time to tackle one of the worst public health crises in human history, leveraging AI and cloud computing in the research process give us a better chance to save more lives.”

Supercomputers have tens of thousands of processors that work together to perform large scale computations, which normally would take decades if done manually. Powered by the 7th Generation of Elastic Compute Service (ECS), Alibaba Cloud’s HPC is highly scalable and elastic, and can be deployed over the cloud quickly without any infrastructure investment.

“We believe technology and research institutions should work hand in hand in order to tackle the pandemic,” adds Dr. He Wanqing, director of Alibaba Cloud HPC, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence. “Global research institutions such as GHDDI are crucial to finding long-term solutions in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and Alibaba Cloud is committed to offering our leading technology such as HPC resources free of charge to support the good cause.”

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