Coronavirus: World's fastest supercomputer that studies stars helps scientists fast-track search for treatments

IBM's supercomputer Summit at Oak Ridge National Laboratory just took two days to screen thousands of potential drug compounds for its effectivity against the new coronavirus and predicted that 77 of them might work


                            Coronavirus: World's fastest supercomputer that studies stars helps scientists fast-track search for treatments
(Getty Images)

As scientists race against time to develop treatments against COVID-19, the world's fastest supercomputer is coming to their aid, helping them save months of tedious research.

Standing tall at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, IBM's supercomputer Summit screened thousands of potential drug compounds for its effectivity against the new coronavirus. It predicted that 77 of them might work, narrowing down the search and thereby saving time. Scientists can now carry out further studies on these compounds.

“Summit was needed to rapidly get the simulation results we needed. It took us a day or two whereas it would have taken months on a normal computer,” said Jeremy Smith, director of the University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory Center for Molecular Biophysics, in a statement.

“Our results don’t mean that we have found a cure or treatment for the coronavirus. We are very hopeful, though, that our computational findings will both inform future studies and provide a framework that experimentalists will use to further investigate these compounds. Only then will we know whether any of them exhibit the characteristics needed to mitigate this virus," he added.

Scientists can now perform experiments on the shortlisted compounds. (Getty Images)

Previously, Summit has helped scientists model the explosions of stars called supernovas, create new materials and understand diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer's.

This time, Smith and his team used the services of Summit to run simulations on 8,000 drug compounds. More specifically, the computer tested whether these compounds could attach to a coronavirus protein called Spike protein. The virus uses this protein to gain entry into human cells.

By learning which compounds are capable of binding to the viral protein, scientists are hoping to develop drugs that can block this binding to human cells and thereby an infection. It found that 77 compounds are capable of attaching to the protein.

Computational screening essentially “shines the light” on promising candidates for experimental studies, which are essential for verifying that certain chemicals will combat the virus, according to Jeremy Smith. The use of a supercomputer such as Summit was important to get the results quickly, he adds.

The study is published on ChemRxiv, a preprint server.

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.