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COVID-19: How AI partnership is helping our search for new therapies

Erica Puntel, US Corporate Affairs
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Erica Puntel, US Corporate Affairs
The scale of the pandemic challenge demands a collective response. That is why UCB is partnering with Microsoft AI for Health and others to accelerate drug discovery.

To play our part in the global fight against COVID-19, our scientists have been using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify molecules that counteract replication in the SARS-CoV-2 virus. AI is one of the pillars of UCB’s Digital Business Transformation – to take large amounts of data and apply algorithms to drug designs in the pursuit of new therapies.

Generating initial drug designs using UCB proprietary technology requires a substantial amount of compute power. Running against time, we reached out to Microsoft’s AI for Health grant program to secure support and partner with their technology experts in order to have the greatest patient value and impact.

The response was swift and positive. On the very next day, the grant was awarded and our teams began working on Microsoft Azure – a cloud-based platform that offers significant computing power.

Thanks to this collaboration, we managed to do in three days what might otherwise have taken six months. This computational design combined with UCB Medicinal Chemistry efforts has resulted in valuable molecules that are moving forward with research into their efficacy against COVID-19.

COVID ‘Moonshot’

This work supports our participation in the COVID Moonshot: a collaboration between biopharma, academia, technology companies, chemical vendors, and individual contributors aiming to find solutions to the COVID pandemic.

UCB has volunteered employee time in the areas of Medicinal Chemistry, CADD and IT to contribute new drug design ideas in addition to prioritising more than 13,000 crowdsourced submissions.
This work fits with UCB’s Digital Business Transformation – a strategic priority to advance digitalization and transform drug discovery for the future using digital technologies. We are committed to utilizing transformative digital tools that will improve the lives of people with severe diseases and to play our part in overcoming COVID-19.

We remain convinced that new digital tools and partnerships can help us to deliver new knowledge, new solutions, and new medicines – and help make UCB sustainable for the future. 

UCB Contributors to the Moonshot project (core team members in bold)
Ben Cossins, Vladas Oleinikovas, Antonija Kuzmanic, Yogesh Sabnis, Jiye Shi and Mark Calmiano (Computational Chemistry), Adam Smalley, Matt Selby, Luis Castro, Jag Heer and Eric Jnoff (Medicinal Chemistry), Dan Chapman, and Bhushan Bonde and Pieter Deurinck (IT Early Solutions), John Thompson (IPD).

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