Using AI to Find Peptide Therapeutics for COVID-19


By now, I’m sure you know the breakneck pace researchers are moving to find drugs and develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

Nuritas[1], a biotech company that focuses on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI)[2] to discover therapeutic peptides, is joining the fight[3] by tasking their powerful AI platform to find peptides that can be used as therapeutics for COVID-19.

“We apply AI to the largely untapped landscape of peptide chemistry to find peptide therapeutics,” Nora Khaldi, Ph.D., Nuritas CEO, Founder, and acting CSO, told BioSpace. “We aim to find bioactive, stable, cell-penetrating peptides with better bioavailability and activity against a target or pathway of interest.”

Why peptides?

Peptides, short amino acid chains (think small proteins), are vastly abundant in every living thing. They are the “Goldilocks” of molecules because of their size – not too small (like small molecules) and not too big (like biologics such as antibodies). They are big enough to bind cellular targets with a large binding pocket but small enough to enter into the cell, giving them access to many more targets inside the cell.

“Peptides can go after targets that small molecules and biologics can’t, like unstructured targets and targets with a large binding pocket,” explained Khaldi.

Despite their unique abilities and vast customizability, peptides have been largely unexplored as potential therapeutics. As of March 2017, there were only 60 approved peptide drugs[4] on the market, with 155 more in active clinical development.

“We wanted to focus on peptides because they are the best natural way that our body communicates,” Khaldi added. “All the solutions to our medical problems are out there – we just haven’t found them yet.”

Nuritas’ AI platform

Nuritas’ Peptide Finder (ΝΠΦ) Platform[5] combines a database with years of experiments on thousands of peptides with state-of-the-art machine learning (ML) architecture that can identify peptides active against a target or pathway of interest.

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