How AI and Big Data Contribute to the Search for Vaccines and Drugs

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Governments and health science companies are once again racing to develop vaccines and other drugs in response to a growing pandemic. Today, the threat is posed by the modern coronavirus (COVID-19), which is wreaking havoc on the world’s population and economies. Health scientists use every tool at their disposal to crunch the numbers and discover new ways to develop the drugs the world requires, and AI and big data both aid in this endeavor.

Without a doubt, AI is on everyone’s mind. According to Deloitte’s State of AI in the Enterprise Survey, 63% of businesses are using AI or machine learning in their operations, and 88% plan to increase spending in the coming year. The ability of AI to adapt to changing environments is a critical factor in its increasing popularity.

AI Companies are Ramping Up

With the market (and the pressing need) so hot, companies that produce a variety of AI technologies are all expanding their operations to assist in drug discovery. Simon Smith, a BenchSci blogger, recently discovered 221 startups that use AI in that field. The breadth of market segments represented by these companies demonstrates how enormous the potential for AI is. Among the top domains that assist in the search for drugs and vaccines are the following:

  • Compile and synthesize data
  • Recognize disease mechanisms
  • Identify biomarkers
  • Develop, validate, and optimize novel pharmaceutical candidates
  • Develop drugs and conduct preclinical studies
  • Clinical trials should be designed, recruited for, and optimized.

Battling the Coronavirus with Data Analysis and AI

Artificial intelligence may be the secret weapon in the fight against COVID-19. According to an article in InformationWeek, AI can recognize patterns in virus data, make appropriate predictions, and potentially identify the best drugs for testing. Additionally, AI is assisting in expediting coronavirus testing and diagnosis for patients requiring a CT scan, reducing diagnosis time from five minutes to only twenty seconds.

China is also implementing temperature detection technologies. These technologies use artificial intelligence to “integrate body detection, face detection, and dual sensing via infrared cameras and visible light” in order to more accurately identify people with elevated body temperatures. In China, AI is also being used in drones to identify disease hotspots so they can be sprayed with disinfectants.

Google Makes Its Play in Vaccine AI

Naturally, everyone expected Google’s entry into the world of AI, and it’s finally firing on all cylinders. Google DeepMind introduced its AI solution AlphaFold in January, which was designed to predict the three-dimensional structure of proteins based on their genetic sequences. And in March, the AI system set its sights on the coronavirus.

As previously stated, “DeepMind released protein structure predictions for several uncharacterized proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to assist the research community in better understanding the virus.” It is hoped that AI will assist scientists in discovering experiments and treatments that would have been missed otherwise.

Smart Algorithms Keep Learning and Learning

It’s truly fascinating to watch how AI and big data algorithms continue to evolve alongside the search for vaccines and drugs. A recent Discover Magazine article detailed how advanced predictive analytics algorithms were used to track the spread of diseases that could be transmitted to humans among animals. It identified characteristics of mice that influence their risk of disease transmission, including body mass, sexual maturity age, life span, group population size, litter size per year, and geographic range.

When put to the test, the algorithm frequently gets a lot wrong on the first pass, which is why it repeats itself with other randomly selected traits multiple times. The algorithm learns which characteristics are most likely to be present in disease carriers with each attempt. According to the study, it correctly identified 58 percent of the correct traits on the first attempt, 67 percent on the second attempt, and 83 percent on the third attempt. Its strength stems from its capacity to continuously improve in intelligence and success over time.

Big Data Improves Vaccine Development

Scientists are developing new models for vaccine development using big data in what is known as the Vaccinology 3.0 Framework. Big data is a critical tool for physicians to use:

  • Access and analyze the massive amount of data contained in electronic medical records.
  • Collect vaccine-related data via mobile applications
  • Sustain vigilance over the safety of vaccine development
  • Track the keywords people use when searching for vaccines online so that health care professionals can more effectively communicate with and educate the public.

Conclusion: Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Training Assist in Getting the Job Done

Worldwide, businesses and organizations will continue to require qualified practitioners of AI and big data to expedite the development of vaccines and drugs. Training for AI Engineers, who master complex algorithms and tools to solve real-world problems such as vaccine research, as well as Big Data Architects, who use data modeling to connect technology to business solutions, will both be in high demand as long as global health threats continue to emerge.