IBM Watson creates macromolecule to help fight Ebola, Zika

IBM Watson has helped to develop a ‘triple-play action’ macromolecule that could help fight both viral infection and drug resistance.

In a collaboration with Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, IBM Research utilised its Watson AI platform to analyse a variety of viruses including influenza, Chikungunya and Enterovirus.

The result is a large or ‘macromolecule’ that, due to specific structural and chemical features, can prevent viral infection, replication and the development of drug resistance. The hope is to use it as a means of preventing and treating viral epidemics such as Ebola, Zika and dengue fever.

In the short-term, the macromolecule could be used in anti-viral wipes or detergents to help neutralise virally-infected environments. In the long-term, the molecule could be used in developing new types of viral vaccine, which may catch the eye of those pharma companies looking to create vaccines for current viral epidemics. These include companies currently working on Zika vaccines, Sanofi Pasteur, Sementis and Inovio, and Ebola vaccine producers Johnson & Johnson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Bavarian Nordic.

“With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, achieving anti-viral breakthroughs becomes even more important,” said Dr. James Hedrick, lead researcher, advanced organic materials, IBM Research, “We are excited about the possibilities that this novel approach represents, and are looking to collaborate with universities and other organizations to identify new applications.”

Dr. Yi Yan Yang, Group Leader at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, also commented on the pioneering research, highlighting the molecule’s unique ability to block viral infection regardless of mutations, allowing the potential prevention of some of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide.

So far the macromolecule has been proven effective in treating the dengue 2 strain of the dengue virus, but has yet to be tested in other viruses. Once the macromolecule reaches clinical trials, IBM’s Watson Discovery Advisor will be used to draw connections between sets of data, speeding up insights, and IBM’s Watson for Clinical Trial Matching will make it easier to find individuals eligible for testing.

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