IBM Introduces AI Solution to Help Drug Researchers Develop COVID-19 Treatments Remotely

By Logan Wamsley

The COVID-19 pandemic has, in recent months, acted as a catalyst for arguably the most accelerated “arms race” in history for medical researchers who wish to find a vaccine — or, more realistically, therapeutic options that lessen the severity of COVID-19 especially in high-risk individuals. To maintain their haste, many medical equipment manufacturers have turned their attention toward providing supercomputer-based solutions that, through their ability to analyze complex data and rapidly run detailed models that show how various drugs attach to viruses, have the potential to reduce the timetable of clinical research from years to months.

Despite advancements in this realm, however, there remains the issue of cost related to clinical trials. In the U.S., there are typically four stages of drug development required to receive FDA approval, with each stage usually more costly than the last. Stage 2, for example, can cost up to $19 million alone, while at Stage 3, the costs can rise to as much as $53 million.

It is with the goal of cost mitigation in mind without sacrificing research speed that IBM has introduced RoboRXN for Chemistry, a free AI service that brings together cloud, AI, and automation technology to predict chemical reactions and aid in the development of molecules.

According to IBM, it can take up to ten years and $10 million in initial funding for a new material or drug to reach the commercial market. With RoboRXN’s abilities to allow scientists to operate remotely with sophisticated AI guidance, IBM hopes to cut this down to only one year and $1 million.

Here’s how it works: Using this platform, chemists will be able to draw molecules from the comfort of their own home after connecting to RoboRXN for Chemistry via a web browser, with the AI recommending optimal scientific routes and best starting materials available commercially. Then, once the molecules are drawn and submitted, RoboRXN will self program to conduct the experiment remotely in an autonomous laboratory.

As a scalable solution that can be adapted to many different hardware setups, IBM says that RoboRXN can be a valuable tool not just for any chemist forced to stay at home due to the pandemic, but also for large organizations who wish to combine the abilities of traditional chemistry-based business with the mentality of an efficient high-tech business. “Automation is removing the chemist from tedious tasks, repetitive tasks, and leaves way more time and space for design and innovation,” says Teodoro Laino, Manager, Future of Computing for Accelearted Discovery for IBM Research Europe.

In the future, RoboRXN may also become an on-premise and private rather than public cloud solution, or even a “chemistry as a service” offering to the medical industry — which would greatly aid scientists who continue to develop COVID-19 related vaccines and therapeutics.

To see IBM’s video introduction of RoboRXN for Chemistry, click here.