Coronavirus outbreak has changed our lives to an extent that can hardly be summed up in words. People are now desperately waiting for the development of COVID-19 vaccine to help them lead a normal life.
But how far are we from an effective vaccine? Several experts and news outlets have made it clear that the vaccine is not going to be available for a long time.
All the countries are racing in coronavirus vaccine development. There have been several buzzes about the availability of a vaccine which has raised the hopes of people up.
But if we are being real, then what are the possibilities of vaccine development and its availability in time? We are going to be exploring those possibilities in this article.
We will talk about the current situation pertaining to the development of COVID-19 Vaccine. And we will see how AI-powered biotechnology can be the modern boon we have all been looking for in these hard times.
Let’s start with the first step in the understanding of the process.
Vaccine development- in a nutshell
Yes, that’s the first step. Understand the basics of vaccine development. Vaccine development is a long process.
A lot of research goes in the study of the concerned bacteria or virus.
One of the ways to make a vaccine is through mild infection, prompting the body to develop immunity against it. It doesn’t make you sick, but the body is now immune for the next attack from that particular bug in most of the cases.
Another way of developing a vaccine is to use the virus/bacteria itself to generate the material required to stimulate your immune system in responding. We call them the non-live vaccines.
And it doesn’t end here. Hereafter, the testing of the vaccine is the next issue here. We may not get the same results that we expected when testing the vaccine on human finally.
You identify the candidates for the testing and conduct it in three different phases. This is how we come to know if it has been effective or not. And it may take a lot of time to determine.
Current status of COVID-19 vaccine development
Currently, over 100 vaccines around the world are in the process of development. And yet it’s not enough.
We previously published an article about the vaccine that the University of Oxford was developing. The vaccine, named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 didn’t turn out to be a huge and complete success.
As per the results, though it prevented pneumonia, it didn’t prevent the infection.
In a similar way, no other country or company has successfully made any vaccine that could get us rid of the coronavirus once and for all.
So is that it? Can’t we expect any vaccine anytime soon? While there is no solid answer to this, we do know what can help COVID-19 vaccine development sooner- AI-backed biotechnology.
Perks of AI-backed biotech in vaccine research
Right now, our best hope in the development of COVID-19 vaccine is the use of biotechnology backed by Artificial Intelligence.
There are two biggest hurdles in the timely development of a vaccine- choosing the right set of molecules amid countless possibilities and then waiting for the clinical trials for the result.
It becomes extremely time-consuming because you are testing one of the thousand possibilities, then awaiting the results of the trial only to face disappointment.
And then the possibility in line comes in, the trial goes on and everything is repeated this way until the correct vaccine is finally found. This trial and error method may keep getting repeated until all the possible molecule combinations have been used.
These two processes of making the vaccine and then testing it alone take years under normal circumstances.
And even if we rush, given the circumstances aren’t normal, it will still take an average of 15 months. And our only hope to beat this dreadful timeline is the use of AI.
How AI can help in vaccine research
The development time of a COVID-19 vaccine can be shortened using AI-backed biotechnology. In fact, we can use Artificial Intelligence for all future vaccine research and development projects.
AI simulation is a short and precise answer to this problem.
These AI simulations can check all these countless possible molecule combinations. And these tests can be carried out for a large number of simulated patients for a large number of simulated time.
And this isn’t a completely new way of developing a vaccine.
In 2019, researchers at Flinders University, Australia, were successful in creating a “turbocharged” flu vaccine using AI simulator.
In merely a matter of a few weeks, researchers created trillions of chemical compounds. Researchers used another simulator to see which compound could be used in an immune-boosting drug.
This approach helped them select the ideal compounds rather than testing each and all of them. And these few, ideal options were then used for human clinical trials of the vaccine.
This way, AI can be helpful in bringing a large number of possibilities down to a few ideal, fitting ones.
Has anyone thought of it yet?
And the relieving answer is yes. Argonne National Laboratory, US, has already used five of the world’s most powerful supercomputers in their quest for developing a vaccine for COVID-19.
They used these five supercomputers to generate different simulations which were in turn used to narrow a billion molecule combinations down to a few thousand.
In the next step, they used a combination of physics simulations for modelling microscopic chemistry and used deep learning for pattern recognition.
Using these two, they were able to identify 30 most promising candidates suitable for laboratory study.
This definitely weeds out the unnecessary time wasted in trial and error method of vaccine development and testing.
AI in Healthcare
Just imagine how much faster the development of COVID-19 vaccine will get if more laboratories around the world started using AI in their research.
Anf this is not only the vaccine development where AI can play such a big role. Healthcare is using AI in many different ways. And this is already bearing fruitful results.
Today AI is already helping doctors around the world in many ways. It’s important that we stop being scared of technology and give it a chance.
Given the looming threat of COVID-19 and then the fear of antibiotic resistance turning into a whole new pandemic, we need to be faster. We can’t go on wasting time on unnecessary trial and error method.
This field promises us a much more efficient healthcare department and could be our only hope for whenever the next pandemic strikes. We have to prepare ourselves for that.
Stay home and stay safe. Until next time!