Published on in Public SectorInnovation

I can’t remember a time when viral disease was so high on the public agenda.

As I write, Covid-19 is sweeping across Europe. The human and economic impact has already been huge. And as the infection spreads, things are only projected to get worse.

Ebola, swine flu, SARS – virial outbreaks have been a reoccurring presence in the 21st century. Our weapons to fight them – at the beginning of outbreaks at least – are always the same: isolate, contain, and quarantine.

But while these are useful for delaying the spread, the question everyone wants an answer to is: “how fast can we find a cure?”

And sadly, in most cases, it isn’t very fast at all.

The discovery of new drugs is a slow and labour-intensive process. In many cases, it can take years – by which time the disease may have already done its worst, or even mutated into an even more deadly strain.

If we could speed up the development of drugs, it would save countless lives. Pathogens could be stopped in their tracks before they had the chance to wreak havoc.

That’s easier said than done. But technology is on the brink of revolutionising the process. And I’m proud that, with the help of our partner PolarisQB, we’ve developed a platform that’ll pioneer the future of drug design.

The perfect partnership

Together, we’ve created what we call the De Novo Drug Discovery Platform.

At the moment, we aim to use the platform to tackle one specific disease: dengue fever. This mosquito-borne condition is present in over 100 countries worldwide, killing as many as 22,000 people each year.

It’s a hugely ambitious project.  And it’s one that can only be accomplished using the quantum molecular design expertise that PolarisQB brings to the table.

The key to curtailing many pathogens is by identifying molecules that bind to and block the proteins responsible for their infection and multiplication. But finding the right molecules is akin to finding a needle in a haystack – there’re literally billions to screen.

Using PolarisQB’s software, we can create a ‘digital twin’ of molecules, emulating their properties in a digital space. This couples with Fujitsu’s quantum-inspired technology to translate the digital molecules into data. The data is then processed, and the most suitable molecules selected.

What I find hugely exciting is the speed of the platform.

While others can only review tens of millions of molecules, we can review billions. Our Digital Annealer is 10,000 times faster than all other solutions out there, and the platform as a whole can cut the time taken to reach the first stages of drug development from at least 24 months to just eight.

Collective collaboration

But the story isn’t just a collaboration between us and PolarisQB.

This platform is fuelled by data. Open data obtained through various sources and libraries, and fed through our technologies. The more data we have, the more good we can do – and that’s why we’ll call on more organisations to make their data available.

Universities for example have vast data stores on molecules. But so do pharmaceutical companies, who, for commercial reasons, must keep their data closed. Going forward, we’d like to collaborate with these organisations, using their data to tackle new diseases together.

Covid-19 won’t be the last worldwide pandemic. And our platform will play a key role in finding a cure, compared to current measures which can only delay. We’ve still got a lot of work to do – and first, we need to beat dengue fever.

But for now, I’m hugely optimistic about the social good that can happen when technology and healthcare organisations come together.

To find out more, visit our website here.

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