3 July 2019

Clinical trials begin for AI-designed flu vaccine

Immunology Research

If you ever pondered the role artificial intelligence (AI) is set to play in healthcare, look no further than an Australian-developed flu vaccine about to undergo clinical trials in the US.

The vaccine is considered to be the first drug to be tested on humans that has been designed by a computer using AI, according to researchers at South Australia’s Flinders University.

Although computers have been used previously in drug design, this vaccine technology was independently designed by an AI program called Search Algorithm for Ligands which was created by the Flinders-based team.

“This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design,” research team leader Professor Nikolai Petrovsky said.

Put simply, the AI algorithm was fed information on flu drugs which worked and some which were not effective. The program then looked at trillions of randomly generated theoretical drugs and predicted which were likely to be an effective adjuvant.

The top 50 AI suggestions were then prepared and tested in laboratory trials using blood samples.

“If the vaccine is the engine of the car, what we’ve developed is a turbocharger that can be bolted onto the vaccine to make it more effective,” Professor Petrovsky told media.

The US trial is expected to run for approximately 12 months and will involve around 240 volunteers.

It comes amid a WHO warning listing mistrust in vaccines as one of the top 10 threats to global health.