As Covid-19 sickens people around the globe, scientists are rushing to find drugs that could help patients recover sooner. The never-before-seen pathogen can cause severe respiratory symptoms, including difficulty breathing and chest pain.
To aid in the search, scientists have enlisted the world’s most powerful supercomputer, the IBM-built Summit. Occupying the floor space of two tennis courts at the U.S Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the Summit can perform 200 quadrillion calculations each second — roughly a million times more computing power than the average laptop.
Last month, researchers used it to screen through a library of 8,000 known drug compounds to find those most likely to be effective against the coronavirus. The compounds included chemicals, herbal medicines, and natural products that have either been studied in humans or are already approved drugs — and, importantly, are already considered safe for humans. Summit narrowed down the dataset to a short list of 77 in just two days. Using regular computers, the process would have taken months.
“The logic is if any of those compounds works, it should be much quicker than the typical drug development process to get approval and widespread use,” Jeremy Smith, a molecular biophysicist at the University of Tennessee who ran the simulations, tells OneZero. He and his colleague posted their findings to the preprint server ChemRxiv in February and are updating the paper as they run more calculations.
If any of the compounds work in animals, scientists could skip the initial safety trial in people and go straight to testing drugs for their effectiveness in those who are sick.
Developing drugs is a notoriously lengthy process — it can take 10 years for a new medicine to reach the market from the time it’s discovered, and many fail because they’re not safe or just aren’t effective. That’s why…