COVID-19: Development of novel human coronavirus infection assays to accelerate AI-driven drug repurposing for COVID-19

Antonescu, Costin | $50,000

Ontario Ryerson University 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

SARS-CoV-2 infection leads to COVID-19, a disease that has rapidly become a global pandemic, with >5M individuals infected and >325,000 deaths from the disease worldwide (as of May 20th, 2020). The significant health, economic and social cost and burden of this disease urgently requires new therapies that can limit the spread of infection in affected individuals, limit the spread of infection between individuals and to treat patients that exhibit severe disease symptoms.

With the development of vaccines expected only in 12-18 months, there is an urgent need for the development of antivirals to limit the spread of infection and the severity of the disease in infected individuals. Drug repurposing is an approach that holds great promise for rapid development of new COVID‑19 antiviral treatments. Cyclica Inc is a company that specializes in artificial intelligence (AI)-driven technologies to study drug-protein interactions. Cyclica has developed a pipeline that allows identification of drugs that are predicted to have potential to be repurposed to treat COVID-19. To be able to do so, it is essential to complement the existing AI-driven analysis of drug-protein interactions with novel assays for detection of cell infection by SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses.

Our research aims to accomplish two things: (1) develop a new suite of assays based on fluorescent reporter proteins that allow detection of virus infection by high content imaging and automated image analysis, allowing scaling of virus infection assays and (2) benchmark these assays with drugs predicted by the AI-driven analysis to impair coronavirus infection, in order to establish these assays as the gold standard coronavirus infection assays. While this research aims to study fundamental cell biology allowing for assay development, it will have key applications to the further rapid development of COVID‑19 treatments.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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