Developing Antiviral Pills to Treat Omicron and Delta Variants

We will soon know if an effective therapeutic for COVID-19 Omicron and Delta variants is available, thanks to collaboration between Variational AI, The University of British Columbia and adMare BioInnovations.

In the spring of 2020, the Digital Supercluster invested $60 million to deliver solutions to some of the biggest health and safety problems created by the pandemic. One of the projects funded focused on applying state of the art generative AI to accelerate the identification of existing drugs with a high probability of being effective in combatting COVID-19 – at a cost that is not prohibitive to drug development.

Fast forward 20 months, and Variational AI has announced they have generated and ordered compounds for validation in partnership with the University of British Columbia (UBC) and adMare BioInnovations to develop a novel SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease (3CLpro) inhibitor. Translated into simple terms, they are one step closer to developing antiviral pills that could treat the Omnicron and Delta variants.

“The Variational AI team is honored to partner with the University of British Columbia and adMare BioInnovations to work to address this most urgent medical need,” said Handol Kim, co-founder and CEO, Variational AI. “As society continues to grapple with COVID-19 variants, it is more important than ever to leverage the power of machine learning to accelerate our drug discovery efforts.”

Founded in September 2019, Variational AI is a team of experienced AI/machine learning and business specialists based in Vancouver, BC. Using a generative model known as Variational Autoencoder (VAE), it is able to optimize molecular properties more quickly and use data far more efficiently.

The company has trained its generative AI algorithm on a large amount of COVID-19 data to generate new molecules and has ordered a number of compounds to be synthesized that are predicted to be potent and safe with fewer side effects.

“Our lab is committed to remaining at the forefront of applying computational methods to discover COVID-19 therapeutics, and our collaboration with Variational AI to leverage the company’s powerful AI adds a promising pipeline of novel and potent SARS-CoV-2 Main Protease inhibitors to the arsenal of antiviral options,” said, Artem Cherkasov, Ph.D., professor of medicine, University of British Columbia.

The strength of strategic partnerships such as this extend well past the projects facilitated by the Digital Supercluster. Successful collaborative relationships between industry leaders, SMEs, academia, investors, government and customers form the foundation of digital innovation in the future. Through these types of partnerships, Canada is accelerating the commercialization of new technologies, facilitating the transfer of research from universities or public laboratories to industry, and supporting the creation of a common innovation vision that can guide meaningful R&D. By increasing the number and diversity of participants working on some of our greatest healthcare challenges, we are yielding greater products and solutions.

“Canada has a proven track record in developing new therapeutics, and has been emerging as a global hub for artificial intelligence,” said Dr. Lana Janes, Venture Partner with adMare BioInnovations. “We are excited to bring these two strengths together, coupling Variational’s deep expertise in machine learning with adMare’s drug development expertise, infrastructure, and network of global partners. It’s this kind of novel approach and sharing of resources that will enable us to ultimately beat COVID.”

You can read the full announcement here.