BioNTech has developed a method to predict new high-risk variants of COVID-19
A pharmaceutical company has announced that it has developed a method to predict new variants of COVID-19 using artificial intelligence to help global efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
BioNTech announced on Tuesday he had partnered with InstaDeep to develop a computational method that analyzes aggregate sequencing data. Called the Early Warning System (EWS), BioNTech said it was combining advanced protein structural modeling with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to quickly flag potential high-risk variants of COVID-19.
The company conducted an 11-month study that showcased the capabilities of EWS and found that it could evaluate new variants within minutes, with the system identifying more than 90 percent of Variants designated by the World Health Organization, including worrying, interesting, and watching variants, on average two months in advance.
The alpha, beta, gamma, theta, eta, and omicron variants were all detected by EWS in the same week its footage was first uploaded. The omicron variant was even classified as a high-risk variant the same day its sequence became available, according to BioNTech.
“Early reporting of potential high-risk variants could be an effective tool to alert researchers, vaccine developers, health authorities and policy makers, thus providing more time to respond to new variants of concern,” said Ugur Sahin , CEO and co-founder of BioNTech.
The EWS algorithm assigns variants an immune escape score and a prior fitness score, which represents the potential for transmissibility of the variant. The combination of these two measures produces a Pareto score which BioNTech says is the best estimate of the risk posed by a given virus variant. The higher the score, the greater the risk that a variant will impact global health.
BioNTech noted that the EWS approach relies only on existing data and does not depend on a “wait and watch” approach.
“Over 10,000 new variant sequences are currently being discovered every week and human experts simply cannot handle complex data at this scale,” said Karim Beguir, co-founder and CEO of InstaDeep.
“For the first time, high-risk variants could be detected on site, potentially saving months of precious time. We are happy to make our research accessible to the public and, more importantly, we look forward to its continued impact in the real world, ”added Beguir.
BioNTech’s announcement comes as some public health experts warn the next variant of COVID-19 is “just around the corner”. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns new variants are expected to occur, but taking steps to reduce the spread of viruses by getting a COVID-19 vaccine, wearing a mask, and getting tested regularly are the best ways to slow down the emergence of new variants.
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