COVID-19 took the world by surprise. A few months after a then-unknown respiratory illness was reported to be spreading in Wuhan, it was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Not even a year later, it has appeared in nearly every country on Earth, infecting over 70 million.
However, scientists were just as quick. The most brilliant people started working on a vaccine and, before the year 2020 ends, there is an effective vaccine against COVID-19, with more on the way.
Scientists Develop COVID-19 Vaccine with Unbelievable Speed
The development of the vaccine has been incredible to witness. Vaccines usually take years of testing before it gets approved for widespread use. Typically, they go through in vitro testing, a step in drug development being supported by companies like Pion. Laboratory work is needed before it moves on to the next phase which is animal testing. As soon as scientists figure out that the vaccine can protect animals, mice and primates in this case, that is only when human trials push forward. It takes several phases of human trials before a vaccine gets submitted to the relevant authorities for approval.
The COVID-19 vaccine went through all of that albeit at a quicker pace. The desperate necessity for a weapon against the highly infectious and deadly virus pulled funds for research and removed the bureaucratic processes that tend to slow down drug development and approval.
COVID-19 is just a glimpse into the future. One day, drug development may be even faster with the help of supercomputers.
How Supercomputers are Helping Fight COVID-19
Drug development typically deals with tons of data that would take years for scientists to sift through and analyze. In the race to find the cure for and vaccine against COVID-19, scientists were quick to employ the help of a supercomputer.
A supercomputer is not like your ordinary laptop. It can do so much more and at a faster rate.
Earlier this year, the COVID-19 High-Performance Computing Consortium — which was joined by some of the most recognized and respected brands in the industry, including Microsoft, Intel, Nvidia, and IBM — was launched. IBM pledged that it will assist all efforts to combat the disease.
Since then, scientists from all over the world have been using supercomputers to make high volumes of calculations that traditional platforms would take months to complete. Insights gleaned from these calculations involve viral structure and function, the interaction between virus and human, patient outcome, and repurposing of existing drugs for potential treatment.
Because the programs are available in the cloud, it allows scientists from all over the world to share their findings and collaborate.
Supercomputer: to Fast-Track Drug Development
Scientists have been using supercomputers to combat diseases that afflict humankind for years.
The process of developing a drug is traditionally very inefficient. There is a lot of trial and error involved starting at the beginning up to the point where it reaches efficacy testing on real patients.
Only around 12% of all drugs that enter clinical trials are proven to be effective and get the approval to be sold in the market.
This is why supercomputers have become an integral part of drug development. Supercomputers examine troves of data and provide a list of the most promising potential drug molecules. It will cut the time spent on manually squirting compounds on petri dishes, hoping that something good will emerge.
An algorithm can immediately find the genes that make proteins with which a drug can bind to.
Often, the problem with the traditional method. A drug candidate might show promise in the beginning, but end up not making any difference in the real world. Scientists are using an algorithm, too, to analyze the protein structure and known drug interaction to find all potential targets. It broke the record and changed the perception of how much the human genome is “druggable.”
Scientists are still perfecting the new process of developing drugs, which utilize the computing power of a supercomputer. Pretty soon, the discovery of cures for any illnesses will be faster and more efficient.