From helping to optimize the performance of therapeutic products to training personnel for the establishment of large-scale manufacturing sites, advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR ) can be used to accelerate the development of COVID-19 vaccines around the world, experts say.
The search for a COVID-19 vaccine has spread around the world, with thousands of researchers collaborating in hundreds of laboratories to fight the virus that has infected 56 million people and claimed more than 1.34 million lives until now.
Recently, a panel of experts noted during Berlin Science Week, a ten-day science festival, that AI and other technologies like machine learning (ML) can make sense of the mountains of data in many. experiments in discovering patterns that a human brain might not spot.
As vaccine candidates move into the final stages of human testing, experts said AI will be vital for rapidly analyzing clinical and immunological data.
René Faber, of the pharmaceutical company Sartorius headquartered in Germany, said there was a need to use these “practical innovations”.
Citing the example of single-use technologies, Faber said these can help quickly build vaccine manufacturing capacities.
In single-use technologies, he said, everything in the manufacturing process is plastic and is only used once to help users avoid cleaning.
“It helps customers build manufacturing facilities much faster, saving a year, if not over a year, to build the manufacturing process,” Faber said during a session on current research trends on vaccines organized by the Falling Walls Foundation.
“And it’s also something that’s very flexible, which means that if you build such a facility, say in the United States, you can copy and paste that manufacturing process very quickly in Europe or Asia as well,” he said. he noted.
Automation is another important technology in COVID-19 vaccine research, Faber said.
When customers develop a manufacturing process, he says they have to conduct a lot of experiments to focus on the right process parameters.
Manufacturers also need to understand how the production process can impact the quality of the vaccine, and find ways to optimize its performance, Faber says.
“It’s a very important job that needs to be done and takes a lot of time, and there are some very innovative tools that allow very high throughput, and automation is a way to conduct such experiments,” he said. he declares.
Digitization and tools like AI are used for real-time data analysis to predict or change the process before something goes wrong, he added.
“And you can avoid the loss of a vaccine badge that of course no one wants to have in the current situation. So there are a number of innovations that we have on our hands today that we can use to really accelerate development and also strengthen manufacturing, ”said Faber.
Uwe Gottschalk, CTO at Lonza Pharma / Biotech, Switzerland, said in therapeutics, especially vaccine development, new innovations and technologies are helping.
“… The pharmaceutical industry as a whole is quite slow and that’s because we can’t cut corners and compromise the efficacy and safety of our products, and this has also been used for too long as an excuse not to. not innovate, and from gene to R&D the mantra was that it took a year or two to make the clinical material of DNA available for a new drug, ”Gottschalk said.
That being disputed in the vaccine industry, he said companies are now applying all the know-how from ML to AI to accelerate vaccine development.
Citing another example of new technology coming to help amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Gottschalk said Lonza is currently setting up large-scale manufacturing sites for vaccine production even before any equipment is released. either on site.
“We can train our specialists using virtual reality. So specialists are being trained as we speak. Although they are sitting in a training center or maybe at home, ”he said, adding that this approach can help save months.
Faber said that the production of most biologics is based on the behavior of individual cells and that AI is used to model how these building blocks of life act as a facility for making proteins and d ‘other molecules, including vaccines.
“Tools such as artificial intelligence, mechanistic modeling, statistical tools, analysis of statistical data, all combined, we believe, will provide a lot of information on the challenges that we still have today,” he said. added.
Emphasizing the use of AI in vaccine development, Prof. Carlos A. Guzman, head of the Vaccinology and Applied Microbiology Department at the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research, Germany, said that every human being, even within the same age group, did not respond to vaccines in the same way, adding that it is important to understand why there are good responders and bad responders to therapy.
Guzman believes that if the underlying mechanism is understood, new vaccines can be developed that may even work for groups of the population who generally have a poor response to vaccination.
“This kind of technology can of course be implemented and that’s something we’re getting in other areas,” he added.
For in-depth, objective and above all balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine