Computer programme discovers better flu vaccine

Artificial intelligence is already on the front lines in the fight against cancer. Now, it’s helping to stave off flu. Researchers at Flinders University have used an AI programme called SAM (Search Algorithm for Ligands) to develop a better flu vaccine that will be trialled in the US.

Flinders Professor Nikolai Petrovsky, founder of Vaxine Pty Ltd, taught SAM which drugs have proven to work and which have not. SAM used that information to suggest a sugar adjuvant that makes the vaccine more effective and protects against infection.

“The first component took 30 years to develop.The second component, with the artificial intelligence, basically took about six months,” Petrovsky told reporters. “We trained the AI system and it went and basically screened hundreds of billions of compounds and ultimately identified a compound which we then took, made, tested and found that it did work and put it in the vaccine.

“That’s the power of it. The computer runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So, you set it to work and off it goes.”

Petrovsky said SAM deserves all the credit for coming up with the vaccine’s second component. A yearlong phase II trial will begin soon in the US. Should the vaccine prove successful, it would go a long way toward saving lives. More than 200 people have died of flu this season in Australia, with nearly 100,000 confirmed cases. Many of those flu sufferers had been vaccinated, highlighting the challenges a rapidly evolving virus presents.

“This represents the start of a new era where artificial intelligence is going to play an increasingly dominant role in drug discovery and design,” Petrovsky said. “Despite currently available vaccines, flu remains a very major global health problem.” 

Thanks to SAM, perhaps the threat can be reduced drastically come future flu seasons.