Flying the flag for British technology

Flying the flag for British technology
Flying the flag for British technology

UK pharma AI firm helps fast-track possible COVID-19 treatment

Posted on 9th August 2020 by Jon Howell

London-headquartered, machine learning company BenevolentAI has been helping find drugs to combat COVID-19 using its AI-assisted research tools. The firm announced back in February that the arthritis drug baricitinib in an oral, once‐daily dosage might be useful in both reducing viral propagation in cells, and to mitigate the cytokine signalling seen in the hyper‐inflammatory stage of the disease. On the back of this, the drug was put forward for clinic trials as a possible coronavirus treatment.

The company has now come back with results from research conducted in partnership with Eli Lilly, who own baricitinib. The research showed that the drug not only reduced the cytokine storm, as predicted, but also provided a previously unknown anti-viral activity effect of the drug, which was hypothesised by BenevolentAI’s AI tools.

What the study managed to show was that hospitalised COVID-19 patients, after treatment with baricitinib, showed improvements in cough, fever, and a reduction in inflammatory markers and SARS-CoV-2 viral load. The firm says that this has been replicated elsewhere in single-arm studies. Further validation is expected in the next few months when the results of randomised trials, including the recently initiated global placebo-controlled study, are released.

“We are pleased that our AI-assisted discovery of baricitinib as a therapy for COVID-19 has shown such positive results and are optimistic that similar outcomes will be seen in the ongoing randomised trials of this drug,” said Peter Richardson, VP Pharmacology, BenevolentAI. “The speed with which the drug entered clinical trials reflects the urgency of this outbreak and the significance of AI and global networks in facilitating the discovery of treatments and their potential impact on patients.”

This is a perfect example of BenevolentAI’s aim to develop new medicines for hard to treat diseases. The UK tech startup is aiming to disrupt the pharmaceutical industry by lowering costs, decreasing failure rates, and increasing the speed at which medicines are delivered to patients, claiming to be the first fully integrated AI company with pharmaceutical discovery and clinical development capabilities.

The company’s CEO, Baroness Joanna Shields is determined that BenevolentAI can make a significant difference, particularly in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic and potentially any similar contagions that might occur in the future. Prior to joining BenevolentAI, Baroness Shields has been a female tech powerhouse having served as the UK’s first Minister for Internet Safety and Security, Under Secretary of State, Special Advisor on the Digital Economy, and Chair & CEO of TechCityUK, as well as having roles at Google, Facebook, Bebo/AOL, RealNetworks, the London Stock Exchange Group, and the TalkTalk Telecom Group.


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