UK announces research partnership with Atomwise to explore potential COVID-19 therapies

The University of Kentucky announced a research collaboration with Atomwise, an industry leader in using artificial intelligence (AI) for small molecule discovery, to explore potential COVID-19 therapies. The project awarded to Dr. Konstantin V. Korotkov is part of Atomwise's Artificial Intelligence Molecular Screen (AIMS) awards program, which seeks to democratize access to AI for drug discovery and enable researchers to accelerate the translation of their research into novel therapies.

Korotkov is an associate professor in the UK College of Medicine's Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry. His project focuses on an essential protein in the infection process of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Disrupting the function of this protein -- papain-like protease (PLpro) -- would not only interrupt the infection process but also give the innate-immune response a chance to detect and respond to infected cells.

Korotkov and a postdoctoral fellow Catherine Chaton are searching for novel inhibitors of PLpro, as well as examining the use of compounds developed against two other coronaviruses: MERS and SARS-CoV-1. "With Atomwise's AtomNet AI screening technology, more than 10 million small molecules can be virtually bound to PLpro," Korotkov explained. "Top scoring compounds will then have their specificity and inhibitory activity characterized using more traditional biophysical techniques. While repurposed drugs are the fastest path to immediate treatment, the efficacy of those reused compounds may be limited, depending on factors such as the mutation rate of CoV-2. Novel therapeutics deepen our toolbox against the future developments of this pandemic and may even aid in the fight against future coronavirus strains."

This collaboration is one of 15 COVID-19 related efforts at Atomwise, and Korotkov is utilizing this AI virtual screening and a subset of synthesized compounds for physical testing at no cost.

Atomwise's patented AI technology has been proven in hundreds of prospective projects to discover drug leads for a wide variety of diseases. We're hopeful that the therapies discovered will not only target this pandemic, but potential future recurrences."

Dr. Stacie Calad-Thomson, Vice President and Head of AIMS Partnerships at Atomwise

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