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Researchers at artificial intelligence (AI) start-up BenevolentAI helped identify Eli Lilly's baricitinib as a potential treatment for COVID-19, and the arthritis drug is now part of a clinical trial, reported The New York Times.
According to the news source, BenevolentAI has spent the past several years building technology that could help find information buried in vast troves of academic papers and other scientific literature.
In late January, after talking with one of the company's investors in Asia about the COVID-19 pandemic, CEO Joanna Shields asked Peter Richardson, BenevolentAI's vice president of pharmacology, if the company could explore potential treatments.
Using its automated language tools, the company's engineers generated a detailed and intricately interconnected database of particular biological processes related to the coronavirus.
Drawing on what the technology found in the literature, Richardson could map out the connections between particular human genes and the biological processes affected by the coronavirus. As a multicolored map appeared on his computer screen, two genes leapt out at him.
Once the genes were identified, BenevolentAI researchers could pinpoint the way that existing drugs targeted the genes, visualizing the process through a kind of digital flow chart, and eventually settled on baricitinib.
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