The researchers from the bioinformatics company Innophore, acib (Austrian Center of Industrial Biotechnology) and the University of Graz are using screening methods based on artificial intelligence (AI). This approach could enable vaccine manufacturers to adapt vaccines more quickly to the most serious mutations.
Mutations – changes in the genetic material of an organism – can occur spontaneously or be caused by external influences. Some give the organism advantages such as better adaptation to changing environmental conditions.
In the case of viral mutations, this can sometimes have a direct impact on infection and transmission and the effectiveness of vaccines. According to the acib research center, research on mutations of SARS-CoV-2 has been conducted with partners in Graz for about a year.
Drugs against changes in viral genetic material
The constantly changing viruses necessitate new automated detection methods that indicate which mutation has the best chance of prevailing. This head start could be used to develop preventive drugs that most efficiently counteract changes in the viruses’ genetic material, Christian Gruber, CEO of biotech startup Innophore, told APA.
The spin-off from acib and the University of Graz has already developed a search engine in recent years that uses artificial intelligence and Big Data to filter out enzymes and active ingredients for the pharmaceutical industry from thousands of structural data from databases.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Graz scientists have been using enormous computing power to monitor the change and spread of the virus and its mutations based on the available more than half a million sequencing reads of coronavirus genomes.
“Based on the increased sequencing now performed globally, we can virtually calculate different scenarios using AI and modeling methods. By matching our data with clinical and laboratory observations, this will allow us to further improve predictive models. This will allow us to predict mutations like the weather – and not just react to them,” Gruber expressed optimism.
Several mutations discovered
“We see quite a few mutations emerging and have discovered, for example, currently less common, structurally striking mutations that bind more strongly to human cell receptors and could thus become highly relevant. Such mutations as the two specific ones at the serine 477 site, which according to current figures have infected more than 27,000 people worldwide, are definitely something to keep an eye on,” Gruber held.
“We are not virologists, but we can see that something is changing there, and that’s where you have to pay attention,” he assessed the situation. The German biotech company Biontech has already been informed of the latest findings, which were published in the journal Scientific Reports, and this has already led to a mention.
Epidemics should be controlled more quickly
“Such results represent a huge opportunity for all vaccine manufacturers in that these models help the industry to prepare and develop vaccine lines that could also cushion as yet unknown and possibly more dangerous mutations,” Gruber said.
The goal of the Graz researchers is to work with major vaccine manufacturers to gain earlier control over epidemics. After all, the experts believe that epidemics will continue to accompany our lives.
— source: k.at/picture:pixabay.com
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