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Will AI Create the Coronavirus Vaccine?

As the COVID-19 pandemic is shutting down whole countries, a few of you may be wondering whether AI can help create a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. (COVID-19 is the name of the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.) After all, AI is magic, right? Or, at least, this is a rather promising and very hot area of applied AI research, with 221 startups reportedly using AI for drug discovery, including several who have either discovered new compounds or created entirely new drugs using AI.

And yes, AI is being used in connection with COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2: from understanding the structure of the virus’s spike protein (which attaches to and infects human cells) to genetically sequencing the virus to automating design and testing of virtual molecules with the desired characteristics for the development of a drug to treat it.

AI and machine learning are also being used to:

Will we see a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine created with the help of AI technologies? It remains to be seen. The challenges do not seem to be with the AI tech, or at least not with the discovery side. Some experts say that the vaccine could be created in a lab in a matter of weeks. The challenge lies with the regulatory and manufacturing side.

First, the vaccine will need to get through clinical trials, which is a long process. Even an accelerated process may take 12 to 18 months to ensure the vaccine is safe and effective.

Also, millions of doses of the vaccine will be needed, and there is currently no established manufacturing process that could be adopted for the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine because “there are no vaccines on the market for any coronavirus, not even SARS or MERS … If this were the flu, manufacturing could be more easily spun up because the technology is in place to mass-produce the annual flu vaccine,” reports Consumer HealthDay.

Our Take

So for now, wash your hands, maintain social distancing, monitor announcements by the health authorities in your area, ensure you have sufficient supplies for a few weeks if you need to stay at home, and don’t panic. We are all likely to get the coronavirus, predicts The Atlantic, but it will not be deadly. (The impact on the economy is entirely another matter, and your analyst wonders about the long term impacts on privacy and human rights as this epidemic has cleared a way for many surveillance technologies.)

For an entertaining and informative take on the coronavirus, watch this episode of John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show. To prepare your business for the pandemic, visit Info-Tech’s COVID-19 Resource Center.

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