The first possible treatment of COVID-19 identified by artificial intelligence moves into a randomized controlled trial. BenevolentAI’s technology has been utilized to explore the potential of Eli Lilly’s Baricitinib. AI algorithms predict that the drug can inhibit COVID-19 infection of human lungs while reducing inflammatory damage. The treatment goes into clinical trials to prove the case. The implications open up a new paradigm developing treatments.
The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the world of drug discovery is complicated; TrialSite News provides a breakdown of this effort.
What is Baricitinib?
An already approved drug developed by Eli Lilly and Incyte for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, the sponsors are looking into other therapeutic indications as well. Sold under the trade name Olumiant, it is used by those Rheumatoid arthritis patients that don’t do well using RA medications called Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF) antagonists. It acts as an inhibitor of janus kinase (JAK) blocking the subtypes JAK1 and JAK2. Baricitinib is approved in both the United States and Europe.
Recently, Eli Lilly announced a clinical study with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID)—part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—to study baricitinib as an arm of NIAID’s Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial. The study will investigate the efficacy and safety of baricitinib as a potential treatment for hospitalized patients diagnosed with COVID-19, beginning sometime in April in America with a planned expansion to additional sites in Europe and Asia. The company hopes to have results within the next two months.
This Phase III clinical trial is occurring alongside a Canadian government-sponsored randomized controlled trial already underway as a potential treatment. Other studies have been set up as well.
The Artificial Intelligence Angle
As the imminent pandemic emerged in February, BenevolentAI set up a specialist scientific team and launched an investigation using its drug discovery platform to identify approved drugs that could potentially stop the progression of COVID-19, inhibit the cytokine storm, and reduce the inflammatory damage associated with this disease. Published in The Lancet, and again twice in Lancet Infectious Diseases, the UK-based firm proposed baricitinib as a possible treatment with both anti-viral and anti-inflammatory properties for COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital prior to the development of critical lung damage.
Record-Breaking Speed to Ramp Up
Hence, by March, investigator-led studies commenced recruiting and treating infected patients with the Lilly drug. And Lilly and NIAID acted with record speed for a government agency and a big pharma—in fact, the speed with which the drug entered clinical trials reflected the urgency of the global pandemic and the significance of the AI-influenced discovery.
Imperial College London has been active in the ongoing research involving Lilly and BenevolentAI. Professor Justin Stebbing with Imperial College, London, commented in a recent company press release that “There are no specific therapeutic agents for any coronavirus infections—we rely on quarantine, isolation and public health policies to prevent disease spread, and on supportive care measures for those who become ill. What we lack is a specific agent to treat the infected, and optimally decrease viral shedding and subsequent transmission. The results of such trials will be central to clinical care as the outbreak continues and we anticipate that this treatment will improve mortality and reduce the pressure on hospitals and ICU’s worldwide. This research is notable for its incredible speed from computer to bench and bedside within a few months.”
Who is BenevolentAI?
Founded in 2013, BenevolentAI is an advanced technology company focused on accelerating the journey from data to medicines. The firm has raised a staggering $292 million by six elite investors, including Temasek Holdings, Goldman Sachs, Woodford Investment Management, Lansdowne Partners, Lundbeck, and Upsher Smith Laboratories. The startup has used the capital to make acquisitions along the way, such as their 2018 purchase of a state-of-the-art drug discovery and development facility on the Babraham Research Campus in Cambridge called Cambridge ‘Research. or their purchase of Proximagen Limited, another Cambridge, UK-based drug discovery and development company.
Founded by Ken Mulvany, they were originally known as Stratified Medical Ltd. Over time, they developed the AI platform to actually reason and propose hypotheses to treat disease. By 2018, they brought on board a heavy-hitter in the world of English business and government—Baroness Joanna Shields who was brought on board to navigate Anglo-Saxon corridors at the intersection of power, money, drugs and technology. Recently, the Baroness noted, “We identified baricitinib as a potential drug with both anti-viral and anti-cytokine properties and published our research in early February. We are pleased that Eli Lilly is progressing baricitinib to clinical testing for COVID-19 patients.”