SARS-COV-2 has upended modern health care, leaving health systems struggling to cope. Addressing a fast-moving and uncontrolled disease requires an equally efficient method of discovery, development and administration. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning driven health care solutions provide such an answer. AI-enabled health care is not “the medicine of the future,” nor does it mean robot doctors rolling room to room in hospitals treating patients. Instead of a hospital from some future Jetsons-like fantasy, AI is poised to make impactful and urgent contributions to the current health care ecosystem. Already AI-based systems are helping to alleviate the strain on health care providers overwhelmed by a crushing patient load, accelerate diagnostic and reporting systems, and enable rapid development of new drugs and existing drug combinations that better match a patient’s unique genetic profile and specific symptoms.
For the thousands of patients fighting for their lives against this deadly disease and the health care providers who incur a constant risk of infection, AI provides an accelerated route to understand the biology of COVID-19. Leveraging AI to assist in prediction, correlation and reporting allow health care providers to make informed decisions quickly. With the current standard of PCR based testing requiring up to 48 hours to return a result, New York-based Envisagenics has developed an AI platform that analyzes 1,000 patient samples in parallel in just two hours. Time saves lives, and the company hopes to release the platform for commercial use in the coming weeks.
AI-powered wearables, such as a smart shirt developed by Montreal-based Hexoskin to continuously measure biometrics including respiration effort, cardiac activity, and a host of other metrics, provide options for hospital staff to minimize exposure by limiting the required visits to infected patients. This real-time data provides an opportunity for remote monitoring and creates a unique dataset to inform our understanding of disease progression to fuel innovation and enable the creation of predictive metrics, alleviating strain on clinical staff. Hexoskin has already begun to assist hospitals in New York City with monitoring programs for their COVID-19 patients, and they are developing an AI/ML platform to better assess the risk profile of COVID-19 patients recovering at home. Such novel platforms would offer a chance for providers and researchers to get ahead of the disease and develop more effective treatment plans.
AI also accelerates discovery and enables efficient and effective interrogation of, the necessary chemistry to address COVID-19. An increasing number of companies are leveraging AI/ML to identify new treatment paths, whether from a list of existing molecules or de novo discovery. San Francisco-based Auransa is using AI to map the gene sequence of SARS-COV-2 to its effect on the host to generate a short-list of already approved drugs that have a high likelihood to alleviate symptoms of COVID-19. Similarly, UK-based Healx has set its AI platform to discover combination therapies, identifying multi-drug approaches to simultaneously treat different aspects of the disease pathology to improve patient outcomes. The company analyzed a library of 4,000 approved drugs to map eight million possible pairs and 10.5 billion triplets to generate combination therapy candidates. Preclinical testing will begin in May 2020.
Developers cannot always act alone – realizing the potential of AI often requires the resources of a collaboration to succeed. Generally, the best data sets and the most advanced algorithms do not exist within the same organization, and it is often the case that multiple data sources and algorithms need to be combined for maximum efficacy. Over the last month, we have seen the rise of several collaborations to encourage information sharing and hasten potential outcomes to patients.
Medopad, a UK-based AI developer, has partnered with Johns Hopkins University to mine existing datasets on COVID-19 and relevant respiratory diseases captured by the UK Biobank and similar databases to identify a biomarker associated with a higher risk for COVID-19. A biomarker database is essential in executing long-term population health measures, and can most effectively be generated by an AI system. In the U.S., over 500 leading companies and organizations, including Mayo Clinic, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, have formed the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition to assist in coordinating on all COVID-19 related matters. As part of this effort, LabCorp and HD1, among others, have come together to use AI to make testing and diagnostic data available to researchers to help build disease models including predictions of future hotspots and at-risk populations. On the international stage, the recently launched COAI, a consortium of AI-companies being assembled by French-US OWKIN, aims to increase collaborative research, to accelerate the development of effective treatments, and to share COVID-19 findings with the global medical and scientific community.
Leveraging the potential of AI and machine learning capabilities provides a potent tool to the global community in tackling the pandemic. AI presents novel ways to address old problems and opens doors to solving newly developing population health concerns. The work of our health care system, from the research scientists to the nurses and physicians, should be celebrated, and we should embrace the new tools which are already providing tremendous value. With the rapid deployment and integration of AI solutions into the COVID-19 response, the health care of tomorrow is already addressing the challenges we face today.