As a member of the COVID R&D Alliance , we have been working alongside other pharmaceutical companies and academics to identify and accelerate therapeutic candidates for COVID-19 and its related symptoms. In this context, we have joined forces with fellow industry players to launch an adaptive clinical trial – the first time industry has come together in such a way. The COMMUNITY Trial (COVID-19 Multiple Agents and Modulators Unified Industry Members) is enabling an array of different therapies, including UCB’s zilucoplan, an investigational medicine that may reduce overactivation of the immune system that contributes to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), to be studied in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. By working hand-in-hand with our peers, we hope to soon equip care teams with investigational therapies to help patients affected by COVID-19.
The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic warrants a global, collective response – and UCB has been playing its part. This has included participating in the COVID Moonshot : an ambitious, crowdsourced initiative involving the biopharmaceutical industry, academia, technology companies, and individuals working together to accelerate the development of a COVID antiviral. UCB was the first pharma company to join this initiative, volunteering employee time in the areas of Medicinal Chemistry, computer-aided drug design (CADD) and IT to contribute new drug design ideas, as well as prioritizing more than 13 000 crowdsourced submissions.
A key pillar of our approach has been the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to identify molecules that prevent replication in the COVID-19 virus. However, generating initial drug designs using UCB proprietary technology requires a substantial amount of computing power. We therefore reached out to Microsoft, requesting support through their AI for Health grant program. This was granted within 24 hours, giving our teams immediate access to the Microsoft Azure cloud platform and allowing them to achieve in three days what might otherwise have taken six months.
The application of cloud computing and AI to our research efforts is already showing its results: so far more than 5 000 molecular designs have been crowdsourced, out of which more than 400 compounds have been synthesized. The first new compounds are being tested in biochemical assays and some encouraging results have emerged.
“I feel privileged to be part of a truly global team who have come together at short notice and worked so hard to get the Moonshot project off the ground. I am proud that UCB can contribute our expertise to such an important project with the potential to help so many people across our planet.”