IBM has launched a “magic bullet” that can fight major diseases such as Zika virus, herpes, Ebola virus, dengue and influenza. Scientists believe that with the help of Watson supercomputer, it could be used in everyday products such as soaps. The magic bullet is just a macromolecule that attracts viruses by electrostatically bonding to the proteins on the virus’s surface. Once the virus has been attached, the macromolecules eliminate it by neutralizing its pH level, hence making it difficult for them to spread. The macromolecules also feature a sugar known as mannose that binds to immune cells such as macrophages preventing the virus from attacking them. The new macromolecule was created by the IBM research and Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering Nanotechnology (IBN).
The researchers examined different strands of viruses including Ebola, dengue, influenza and herpes. The researchers did not find any resistance to the viruses during the initial stages of testing. The new chemical compound may be used to develop medications and vaccinations that can be extremely useful in fighting viral infections. The compound can also be used in detergents and anti-viral wipes, which means that it could be dispersed in water and used to clean a whole infected room. IBM computers created the model of the molecule that could be attached to all types of viruses.
Dr Yi Yan Yang, of the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore, said, “Viral diseases continue to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. We have created an anti-viral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations. It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use. This promising research advance represents years of hard work and collaboration with a global community of researchers.”
The researchers will make use of IBM’s supercomputer Watson. They would use Watson’s Discovery Advisor algorithm to closely study clinical trials of the molecule and speed up selection of suitable trial patients. James Hedrick, one of the lead researchers of the study, said it’s a difficult task to develop a therapeutic solution for any virus because there are millions of kinds of viruses and they rapidly mutate. He said that the researchers went for a different approach in their quest to defeat viruses. Instead of going after the virus’s nucleic acids, the researchers went after the glycoproteins surrounding the virus.
IBM’s Role In Future Developments
Hedrick is quite positive on its potential, specifically the molecule’s possible use in antiseptics. “My gut feeling is, something like a wipe, something like a hand cleaner is going to be relatively straightforward to move to market,” says Hedrick. “If you market it as a true antiviral, I would imagine it would take 3, 4, 5 years, maybe, maximum.” But for the molecule to work in humans it will take several years of clinical trials to get the compound approved. That is where IBM’s computer comes in as it will streamline the clinical trial process, selecting the ideal candidates for the testing process. Hedrick said that IBM will play a crucial role in the molecule’s future. “Obviously IBM is not going to make a wipe,” says Hedrick. “We would do it through a consumer product company.”
IBM will seek other business partners for trials and product testing and product development. Currently, IBM is working on collaboration projects with academic and industrial partners to mass produce the product and introduce it into practical use. Hedrick says that the future goal is to work with a big pharmaceutical company, but for the time being they are looking to partner with several academic partners to get the product up from the ground.
This is not the first time that IBM has played a pivotal role in healthcare technology. IBM in a joint collaboration with Bausch and Lomb created an app that provided useful guidelines for cataract surgeons. Surgeons will have the option to view the necessary information on their iOS-enabled devices such as iPhones and iPads or display the information on the wall in the operating room. The app will digitally manage all patient information, including health records, medical records and clinical records using their iPhones or iPads, while all the data will be hosted on IBM’s cloud service Bluemix, a secure, seamless cloud server environment. All the information regarding IOL surgery will be relayed through the cloud, in an effortless, seamless and secure manner, enabling quick and enhanced surgical planning and patient care.
IBM also launched several mobile health apps for iOS devices, some of which are: Home RN, an administrative task manager app for home nurses, and Hospital MD, a task planner for doctors. So IBM is fully invested in the healthcare space and we can see many more exciting and revolutionary projects from them in the coming future.