Once again, the race is on for governments and health science companies to develop vaccines and other drugs in response to a growing pandemic. Today, the threat lies in the modern coronavirus (COVID-19) that continues to take its toll on the global population and economies. Health scientists use every tool in their arsenal to crunch the numbers and find the ways to create the drugs the world needs, and AI and big data are both helping to lead the charge in that endeavor.
AI is undoubtedly on everyone's minds. The Deloitte's State of AI in the Enterprise Survey reports that 63 percent of companies are employing AI or machine learning in their businesses, and 88 percent plan to increase spending in the coming year. AI's ability to adapt to changing environments is key to its growing popularity.
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AI Companies are Ramping Up
With the market (and the urgent need) as hot as it is, companies who produce a range of AI technologies are all ramping up their operations to help with drug discovery. BenchSci Blogger Simon Smith recently uncovered 221 startups that use AI in that field. The wide array of market segments that these companies represent illustrates how massive the potential for AI is. Among the top domains that help the search for drugs and vaccines:
- Aggregate and synthesize information
- Understand the mechanisms of disease
- Establish biomarkers
- Generate, validate and optimize novel drug candidates
- Design drugs and preclinical experiments
- Create, recruit for, and optimize clinical trials
Battling the Coronavirus with Data Analysis and AI
AI may just be the secret weapon in the battle against COVID-19. An InformationWeek report shows that AI can identify patterns in virus data, make appropriate predictions, and potentially uncover the right drugs for testing. AI is also helping to speed coronavirus testing and diagnosis for people in need of a CT scan, reducing the diagnosis time from five minutes to only 20 seconds.
Temperature detection technologies are also being rolled out in China that uses AI to "integrate body detection, face detection, and dual-sensing via infrared cameras and visible light" to more accurately spot people who have elevated body temperatures. AI is also being used in drones in China to identify hot spots for the disease so the areas can be sprayed with disinfectants.
Google Makes Its Play in Vaccine AI
Of course, everyone would expect that tech leader Google would have an entry in the world of AI, and it's finally clicking on all cylinders. In January, Google DeepMind introduced its AI solution called AlphaFold, which was designed to predict the 3D structure proteins based on genetic sequences. And in March, the AI system put the coronavirus in its sights.
As was reported, "DeepMind released protein structure predictions of several under-studied proteins associated with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to help the research community better understand the virus." It is hoped that AI will help uncover experiments and treatments that might have otherwise been missed by scientists.
Smart Algorithms Keep Learning and Learning
It is truly fascinating to see how AI and big data algorithms continue learning as the search for vaccines and drugs evolves. A recent report in Discover Magazine showed how advanced predictive analytics algorithms were used to track how animals carry diseases that can potentially be passed on to humans. It identified traits in mice that determine the risk of carrying a disease, measuring things like body mass, age of sexual maturity, life span, group population size, litters per year, geographic range, and so on.
When put to the test, the algorithm tends to get a lot wrong in its first pass, so it repeats itself multiple times with other randomly selected traits. With each attempt, the algorithm learns which traits are most likely to be present in disease carriers. As it learned, it identified the correct traits 58 percent in the first attempt, 67 percent in the second, and then 83 percent in the third attempt, according to the study. Its power lies in the ability to continue getting smarter and more successful over time.
Big Data Improves Vaccine Development
With the help of big data, scientists are creating new models for vaccine development in what's known as the Vaccinology 3.0 Framework. Big data is a vital tool to help physicians:
- Access and analyze the vast volume of data in online medical records
- Collect vaccine-related information through mobile apps
- Monitor the safety of vaccine development
- Track the keywords people use when they search for vaccines online so that health workers can better communicate and educate the public more effectively.
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Conclusion: AI and Big Data Training Help Get the Job Done
Companies and organizations worldwide will continue to need qualified practitioners of AI and big data to get their vaccine and drug research done fast. Training for AI Engineers who master complex algorithms and tools to solve real-world problems like vaccine research, as well as Big Data Architects who utilize data modeling to connect technology to business solutions, will both be in high demand as long as global health risks continue to arise.