Collaborative AI Search for Covid-19 Antiviral Drug

Covid-19 represents a big challenge to the world. Chancellor Angela Merkel talked about the fact 70% of the population of Germany could potentially get infected, as there is no immunity, no cure exists and it spreads exponentially. We feel that the numbers for the whole world might be similar (some experts put it at 60%) as well. Tom Hanks and his wife were diagnosed with Covid-19, driving home the point that no-one is immune. Governments the world over are trying to slow down the impact by bringing travel restrictions, so that their healthcare systems do not get overwhelmed, leading WHO (World health organization) to declare the Covid-19 spread, a pandemic. While governments will do their bit, the slow pace of antiviral drug development for coronavirus is alarming and actually planet threatening from our perspective. So we decided to do our bit with CASCAD, the Collaborative AI Search for Covid-19 Antiviral Drug.

While vaccine development might take a long time with the legitimate focus on safety and long term impact, it is important to explore if we can rapidly get to antiviral drugs by repurposing existing drugs, leveraging data and AI. Some early efforts with repurposing HIV drugs have moved forward - China reports many ongoing clinical trials. Gilead’s front runner Remdesivir seemed to have been selected on the basis of some pre-clinical data “At least two clinical trials of remdesivir for 2019-nCoV are underway in China, and other patients with 2019-nCoV infection have received the drug under a compassionate use protocol.” The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) of the US Department of Health and Human Services supported the study, along with Gilead. We are seeing some adhoc repurposing finding good output in India as well.

However we need more effort, especially in a country like India, home to 1.3bn people. A pandemic of this scale will certainly cripple our healthcare system if it extends to a full blown cycle. One of the interesting approaches to shorten the cycle of response is to leverage AI driven drug repurposing. Drug repurposing involves figuring out whether a drug designed for one disease can be used effectively for another disease without going through the whole drug discovery cycle (See fig below ).
Drug process 2

Typically for the Pharma industry it is not unusual to go through 10000+ drug candidates to arrive at the target drug. That's why the cost to develop a drug could be in billions of dollars. In the last stages of the drug trials, we have a few candidates which might be safe for humans but are short on efficacy and hence get dropped. Repurposing involves looking through the late candidate data to find out the fit with a new disease or condition. It is not a new concept, but has been in practice for some time. For example, the drug sildenafil (Viagra) was in development as a remedy for angina (heart problems). It didn’t work in the original purpose, but along the way it was discovered to be an effective drug to treat erectile dysfunction. It has since been further repurposed to treat arterial pulmonary hypertension, and is now being considered as a cancer drug also. So far repurposing drugs has largely been a process left to scientists or the team involved – treatments emerging more by chance rather than intent or systemic process. However with Artificial intelligence, that is changing. Advancements in AI mean that interactions between known drugs and unsolved diseases can be rapidly modelled, tested and shared around the world, resulting in a process that is way faster. This presents a big opportunity to help patients, not only quickly but also at a fraction of the cost. New repurposed treatments can be developed more speedily and be more accessible and affordable than ever before. Combined with generic manufacturing, where India is a leader, it could result in completely different price points and timelines, making healthcare affordable for many regions of the world, specially for infectious diseases like Covid-19, which are threatening to take apart our healthcare systems, not just in developing countries like India with a high prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes but even in the developed world.

“Medicine by Machine” the title of a recent article in Fortune talks about the company Deep Genomics hailed as the “first-ever A.I.-­discovered therapeutic candidate”. The Canadian company used artificial intelligence to solve a long-standing mystery about a genetic disorder called Wilson’s disease. They first identified, using bioinformatic analysis, that the genetic mutation Met645Arg leads to a crucial defect in an essential copper-metabolizing protein. Deep Genomics then used another set of A.I. tools to sort through billions of molecules and rapidly identify nontoxic compounds that could correct the error made by the genetic glitch and enable a functional protein to be produced. The algorithms came up with no fewer than 12 drug candidates, each of which appeared to work in both cell models and mice. Deep Genomics hopes to put one of them, known as DG12P1, into human clinical trials in 2021.

But scaling up this drug repurposing will require new collaborations to connect patients, researchers, governments, philanthropists and industry. Collaborations that can help support the efforts of those engaged in drug repurposing. We, AI Foundry and IISc (Indian Institute of Science) are in the process of setting up the ARTPARK (AI & Robotics Technology Park), a not-for-profit initiative, to catalyze collaborative efforts to solve societal scale problems. This effort to accelerate the discovery of new drugs via data-mining and AI to repurpose existing drugs which have similar impact pathways will be a new collaborative initiative, with the coronavirus antiviral drug being the first potential candidate.

We are looking for Pharma companies and research hospitals to share their rejected drug candidate data (and any other relevant clinical testing data), which we can analyze using AI at scale to mine through the combinations that might result in robust candidates for antiviral drugs for Covid-19.

ARTPARK is creating a secure and private, cross-enterprise data grid, based on IUDX (India Urban Data Exchange - through which data (especially live data from sensors, events, etc.) can be safely and securely shared amongst the various collaborators (IUDX was initially developed for smart cities; we are now extending it to cover healthcare and pharma use cases such as CASCAD)- while also ensuring that the value extracted from any discovery will flow back to all the contributors in a fair manner, making sure that discovery is available to widest spectrum of people possible without resorting to profiteering. This data grid will collate data and share it with AI researchers to come up with new combinations, which can be tested in collaborations with labs with a rapid feedback loop, hopefully leading to new candidates with robust results. We will also be using the framework to quickly relay real time data feedback to public healthcare system users (doctors, nurses, healthcare regulators, providers, and others) on the ground using a publish subscribe mechanism. Currently the critical information like how many ventilators are working in a specific area, or how many places people are looking for testing is often siloed out. This will also accelerate the response to any mounting emergency in the meantime.

If you are an expert in Pharma, work with any of the existing big Pharma companies, research labs, regulator, administrator, healthcare expert with data to share, expert in AI who want to contribute their effort or just a well wisher who can leverage their networks to help accelerate this effort, both within India or outside India, please drop us an email at or connect others to us or share it in your social network, with those who can help. We are setting up a war room and each small help can go a long way in finding a way to fight with Covid-19 and we need to fight this outbreak together. That is the only hope we have, staying together and researching together, if we can do it this might be the last pandemic earth has to face:).

AIFoundry ( is a venture builder creating leapfrog AI ventures with an aim to bring AI to 6bn people. We fundamentally believe that for solving developing world problems in healthcare, financial services, transportation, education ,and housing, we need to create a different kind of AI ecosystem that will bring AI academia, Industry experts and Govt. to work together.

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Dr. Arjun Jain

Dr. Arjun Jain is Founder and Chief Scientist at Axogyan AI Consult Pvt. Ltd. (now AI Foundry). He is also an Adjunct Faculty at the CDS dept. at IISc, where he leads a research group in deep learning. From 2016-2019, he was an Adjunct Assistant Professor at IIT Bombay, where he taught Computer Vision. Before that he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Computer Science department at New York University's Courant Institute where he worked with 2019 Turing award winner Yann LeCun. He received his Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Max-Planck Institute for Informatics in Germany. Broadly, his research lies at the interface of computer graphics, computer vision, and machine learning, with a focus on human sensing.

Arvind Saraf

Arvind is a Computer engineer (trained at IIT, MIT & Google) turned technology entrepreneur. He co-founded a Ratan Tata backed healthcare social tech venture, digitised a bootstrapped apparel brand, and built and scaled a B2B fashion tech venture, Wishbook. He's a very hands on technologist, having worked across different stacks, teams and markets. He's passionate about building using technology to solve problems and make life better, esp. for emerging market users and small businesses.

Dr. Bharadwaj Amrutur

Bharadwaj Amrutur is a Professor in the Indian Institute of Science. His interests are in Large Scale IoT Systems and Tele-Robotics. He has led the India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX) for the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, to create the specifications and reference implementation of a cross-enterprise data sharing framework to be used in Smart Cities. He has a BTech from IIT Bombay and MS, PhD from Stanford.

Dr. S. Chandrashekharan

Dr. Chandra holds a master degree M. Sc in Biochemistry from Central College, Bangalore University and PhD in Molecular Biology from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Chandra brings over 29 years experience in the areas of recombinant Technologies, Biochemistry, in vitro Biology, Drug Discovery and Biopharma. Having worked with Bangalore Genei, a Biotech start-up and AstraZeneca for over 18 years, Chandra, founded Enzene Biosciences Ltd, a Biopharma R&D company and successfully exited to Alkem Laboratories Ltd, a seventh largest Pharma company in India. Chandra is instrumental in setting up Biologics (including Peptides, rDNA drugs and monoclonal antibody) platform for Alkem and taken couple of biosimilars closure to clinical study and several Biosimilars to Pre-clinical stage. Presently, Chandra is leading Genei Laboratories Pvt Limited (Formerly Known as Bangalore Genei, which was acquired from Merck Life Sciences, Merck KGaA) as Managing Director. Also Founding Chairman and Director of Vipragen Biosciences Pvt Ltd, a Pre-clinical drug discovery company situated in Mysore. Chandra brings several years of hands on experience in successful running and managing Biotech start-ups.

Dr. Chitra Pattabiraman

Chitra Pattabiraman is an India Alliance Early Career Fellow at the Department of Neurovirology NIMHANS, Bangalore. She uses sequencing to identify pathogens in brain infections. She obtained her integrated PhD (Masters + PhD) in Life Sciences from National Centre for Biological Sciences, TIFR, Bangalore and has been a recipient of the Royal-Society SERB Newton International Fellowship for post doctoral research.

Dr. Gautam Menon

Gautam Menon is Professor of Physics & Biology at Ashoka University, on leave from Institute of Mathematical Sciences, where he is a Professor in its Theoretical Physics & Computational Biology groups. Adjunct Professor at the Department of Biological Sciences, TIFR. His interests centre around mathematical modeling and simulations, largely in biophysics and in epidemiology. He Completed a PhD from IISc, Bangalore, postdoctoral work at TIFR, taught at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada before joining IMSc. He was Visiting Professor at the Mechanobiology Institute and the Department of Biological Sciences at the National University of Singapore from 2011 to 2013.

Kapil Vaswani

Kapil Vaswani is a security researcher at Microsoft Research. His research interests include design of large scale systems with strong security and privacy guarantees. His current research is focused on designing hardware security features such as trusted execution environments. He has actively contributed to the design and development of a number of security products and systems such as the Always Encrypted feature in SQL Server and the India Urban Data Exchange (IUDX).

Dr. Nagasuma Chandra

Nagasuma Chandra is an Indian structural biologist, biochemist and a professor at the department of biochemistry of the Indian Institute of Science. She is known for her studies on Mycobacterium tuberculosis. The Department of Biotechnology of the Government of India awarded her the National Bioscience Award for Career Development, one of the highest Indian science awards, for her contributions to biosciences in 2008. Chandra's research focus is in the fields of computational systems biology, cell modeling and structural bioinformatics and she leads a team of scientists who are involved in research in areas such as systems biology, computational immunology, structural bioinformatics and drug discovery.

Narayanan Venkatasubramanian

Venkat is the CEO and Co-Founder of the AI/ML based drug discovery company Peptris Technologies. He has over 20 years of experience in Systems and Software Development. He has played a key role in all aspects of Product development in Consumer Electronics and Professional Displays. Was instrumental in conception to product creation of a Large Format Display Wall as the overall System Architect for the Prysm LPD wall system. Created a data pipeline for remote monitoring, diagnostics and preventive maintenance using data analytics. He holds 6 patents on system interconnect features in LPD displays, firmware upgrade and user interaction models in televisions. Venkat holds an Integrated M.Sc in Mathematics and Computer Applications from IIT Delhi.

Narendra Dixit

Narendra Dixit is Professor & Associate Faculty, Centre for Biosystems Science and Engineering at IISc. His research focuses on the development of mathematical and computational models of biological phenomena with the goal of improving our ability to combat infectious diseases. His current focus is on HIV, hepatitis C, and tuberculosis. His research aims to identify ways of improving the outcomes of current therapies and to devise strategies for the design of new, more potent therapies and vaccines while balancing the medicinal and tocxic effects of drugs.

Dr. Pulkit Agrawal

Pulkit is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT. He co-founded SafelyYou, AI Foundry Inc. and did his PhD from UC Berkeley. His research interests span robotics, deep learning, computer vision and reinforcement learning. Pulkit completed his bachelor's from IIT Kanpur and was awarded the Director’s Gold Medal. His work has appeared multiple times in MIT Tech Review, Quanta, New Scientist, NYPost, etc. He is a recipient of Sony Faculty Research Award, Signatures Fellow Award, Fulbright Science and Technology Award, Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Award, OPJEMS and Sridhar Memorial Prize among others.

Dr. Rahul Roy

Rahul is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. Rahul Roy received his PhD in Biophysics and Computational Biology from University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA. After a post-doctoral stint at Harvard University, Rahul joined IISc as a PI in 2012. He is also an associate faculty in Center for Biosystems Science and Engineering, IISc and was affiliated with Molecular Biophysics Unit from 2013-2019. He is the recipient of the Jane Coffins Childs Memorial Post-doctoral fellowship, Innovative Young Biotechnologist award from DBT, India and Wellcome Trust-DBT India Alliance Intermediate fellowship. His lab is leading an interdisciplinary research program aimed at innovating and engineering novel technologies to help understand and manage infectious diseases using single molecule detection, quantitative genomics and high resolution imaging.

Dr. Santanu Bhattacharya

Dr. Santanu Bhattacharya, Chief Data Scientist at Airtel, is a data-science leader with expertise in Machine Learning, Data and Digital products. In the past, he has led Facebook’s emerging market products with 350 million users in 79 countries, America Online’s (AOL) global data analytics and has successfully built two start-ups. Santanu has a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/UMCP and an alumnus of MIT Sloan and IIT-Bombay. A speaker at the World Economic Forum 2020 and a writer, he has been covered in Mashable, TechCrunch, Forbes, Le Monde, The Economic Times etc.

Shridhar Narayanan

Shridhar has more than 18 years of drug discovery and development experience in Indian pharmaceutical industry in various therapeutic areas. Shridhar holds a basic degree in Pharmaceutical Sciences, a PhD in Pharmacology from Ohio State University, and has post-doctoral experience in Neuropharmacology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Shridhar, a serial entrepreneur, is currently Founder Director and Chief Executive Officer of Foundation for Neglected Disease Research (FNDR), a not for profit company with a mission to discover and develop drugs for diseases of the developing world. Throughout his career, Shridhar has overseen the Discovery and Development of 18 clinical candidates in the areas of infection, oncology, diabetes, inflammation and respiratory diseases. He has also executed out-licensing deals with major pharma as well as in-licensing of candidates (NCE/NBE) which are in active development. This has generated revenues in excess of 180 million USD.

Subhashis Banerjee

Subhashis is an Investment banker and Investor who has previously worked for Standard Chartered Bank Private Equity Fund, the Tata group, Sequoia Capital and Tishman Speyer Private Equity Fund. He has advised companies in domains like AI, financial sector, travel & logistics, defense and real estate. Currently he is a Co Founder of AI foundry. He has a BTech from IIT Kanpur and a MBA from IIM Calcutta.

Sai Sri Sathya

Sai Sri Sathya is the CEO and co-founder of S20.AI, a secure privacy-friendly collaboration platform for AI. He was previously at Facebook's Connectivity Lab working on proximity and mesh based technologies. He has a patent on trust and on video communication in low-bandwidth networks and 4 pending-patents on messaging, networking, content recommendation & private search. Prior to this, he was at MIT Media Lab developing numerous healthcare diagnostic & smart city solutions impacting over 10 million people. As core member of REDX initiative founded by Prof. Ramesh Raskar (MIT), he has launched several AI clubs and innovation labs in India and abroad. Sathya is passionate about building high impact societal platforms using technology. His team was runner-up 2019 MIT Solve & ID4D Mission for Billions challenge held at the World Bank; finalist at the MedTech Boston Google Glass Challenge (2014); & received a 25k CAD grant from Grand Challenges Canada to build and deploy a larvae tracking solution in Panama during the Zika outbreak (2016). Sathya is a National Cyber Olympiad Gold medalist, a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society Richard Merwin Scholarship and the Chancellor's Special Achiever Award for co-founding an internationally acclaimed innovation lab at VIT University.

Dr. Sumanta Mukherjee

Sumanta Mukherjee, Researcher at IBM, India. His expertise lies in the area of machine learning, mathematical modeling, and discrete event simulation. His Ph.D. work at IISc Bangalore (2015) involved the development of mathematical models for molecular epidemiology, addressing population-wide disease susceptibility modeling from genetic variability. He has carried out multiple successful projects in Smart Energy, Visual recommendation, and Algorithmic product design in IBM. Currently, his work focuses on the theoretical exploration of counterfactual explanation and causal models.

Dr. Uma Chandra Mouli Natchu

Uma Chandra Mouli Natchu is an Associate Professor, Division of Infectious Diseases, St John's Research Institute, Bangalore and adjunct faculty at the Translational Health Science and Technology Institute, Faridabad. He has an MBBS and MD in Pediatrics from AIIMS and an MPH (quantitative methods) from the Harvard School of Public Health. He brings experience in epidemiology, design and implementation of clinical trials and population cohorts. In addition, he runs a lab that profiles the developing immune system, measures immune responses to vaccines & infections, and inflammation.

Umakant Soni

Before co-founding AI foundry, Umakant co-founded piVentures, a $35m early stage fund for AI (India’s first & only AI focused fund), investing in leading AI companies in India (Sigtuple, Niramai, Ten3THealth, Zenatix, & others). He is currently working with IISc to co-found ARTPARK. He has spent more than 10 years in AI space (Founded India’s first AI bot startup in '09) as an entrepreneur, strategy thinker and investor in enterprise, healthcare & logistics. Ex-Director India for Science Inc., he spent time in strategy and innovation roles at Wipro Ltd., one of the leading IT Services companies. IIT Kanpur Alum. Abstract painter in his spare time. He can be reached at

Dr. Vijay Chandru

Vijay Chandru is an academic entrepreneur having spent nearly 40 years as an academician. After completing his PhD from MIT in the decision sciences, he was a tenured professor at Purdue University for a decade in the 1980s and a professor of Computer Science and Automation at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore since then. A fellow of both the academy of sciences (IASc) and engineering (INAE), he is currently an INAE Distinguished Technologist in Bio-Engineering at IISc. He co-founded Strand Life Sciences, India’s leading precision medicine solutions company, an offshoot of IISc in 2000 & served as Executive Chairman till 2018. He is a technology pioneer of the World Economic Forum since 2006, and was President (2009-2012) of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises (ABLE). Vijay is also co-founder of The Simputer Trust, Metastring Foundation and OPFORD Foundation, social ventures in India that are focused on open platforms.