An AI developed a new antibiotic that could save the day

22 Février, 2020, 02:51 | Auteur: Yves Courtet

Scientists have used artificial intelligence AI to discover a new type of antibiotic which could kill some of the world's most unsafe drug-resistant bacteria.

Some of the most unsafe and drug-resistant bacteria in the world can now be killed thanks to a new antibiotic developed by AI.

"In terms of antibiotic discovery, this is absolutely a first", said Regina Barzilay, a senior researcher on the study and specialist in machine learning at MIT.

The algorithm was trained using around 2,500 molecules - including about 1,700 FDA-approved drugs and a set of 800 natural products - to seek out chemical features that make molecules effective at killing bacteria.

Once the model was trained, the researchers tested it on the Broad Institute's Drug Repurposing Hub, a library of about 6,000 compounds.

The research team used a machine-learning approach to identify new types of antibiotic from a pool of more than 100 million molecules, including one which reportedly works against a wide range of bacteria. The model will be an important tool for drug discovery in the future and will help scientists expand antibiotic arsenals and outpace the dissemination of resistance.

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Using a computer model capable of crunching the numbers on tens of millions of chemical compounds in a fraction of the time it would take a team of human scientists to accomplish the same task, the AI system identified a number of antibiotic candidates that show serious promise. According to reports, both the Department of Health and Human Services and Regeneron will develop monoclonal antibodies to fight the infection, a different line of treatment to the antiretrovirals and flu drugs that have also emerged as possible defences against the disease. One, which the researchers named "halicin" after Hal, the astronaut-bothering AI in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, looked particularly potent.

The study is "a great example of the growing body of work using computational methods to discover and predict properties of potential drugs", says Bob Murphy, a computational biologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Antibiotic-resistant infections have risen in recent years - up 9% in England between 2017 and 2018, to almost 61,000. "Our approach revealed this wonderful molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered". The drug worked against every species that they tested, with the exception of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a difficult-to-treat lung pathogen. This mechanism has not been studied before and thus could prevent the bacteria from developing resistance, explained the researchers.

Mice infected with A baumanni, an illness spread to USA soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that is resistant to all known antibiotics, were cleared of the infection within 24 hours.

Preliminary studies suggest that halicin kills bacteria by disrupting their ability to maintain an electrochemical gradient across their cell membranes. The scientists now intend to search more of the database. The team of researchers called the molecule "halicin". Rather than looking for any potential antimicrobials, the algorithm focused on compounds that looked effective but unlike existing antibiotics.

The researchers also plan to use their model to design new antibiotics and to optimize existing molecules.

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