A systems pharmacology platform powered by AI claims to have identified the top candidate drugs likely to be effective in treating COVID-19 disease.

Cambridge-based AI VIVO – made up of molecular biologists, system pharmacologists, control engineers and machine learning experts - said it has begun talks with the UK Government and others to initiate trials of the approved drugs.

It said the top 31 drugs comprise 0.05% of the ranked candidates, and shows “promising overlap” with existing scientific research.

The firm’s prediction engine took 15 days to rank 90,000 candidate compounds in order of efficacy - identifying a shortlist of 31 candidate drugs that are already approved and in use for other human diseases and conditions or in Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.

AI VIVO started by building a model of the impact of COVID-19 on the lungs using real samples from COVID-19 infected cells.

The firm’s system identifies how the drug’s efficacy could be improved and side effects moderated by combining potential drugs with other compounds from AI VIVO’s Top 31 to create a more effective treatment.

It said its results have far exceeded expectations, offering additional candidates for further investigation. The firm now plans to test combinations of drugs from their top ranking, to take advantage of their synergistic modes of action to achieve greater treatment efficacy.

AI VIVO founder and CEO, Dr Peyman Gifani, said: “We believe identifying phenotypic changes in disease states is key to finding effective therapies.

“There is little known about the COVID-19 virus itself, its effect on the host tissue and potential targets for discovery research. This limits our knowledge about the best targets for COVID-19 and means that AI VIVO's phenotypic approach could provide the most powerful, logical and rapid pathway to COVID-19 drug discovery.

“We are now in the process of extending our analysis to wider combinations of treatment strategies. This will lead to the identification of combinations of top ranked drugs that, together, will be better than any single drug on its own.”

Entrepreneur and government adviser, David Cleevely CBE, who is also one of AI VIVO’s lead investors, added: “We are already talking to a number of government agencies and pharmaceutical organisations about testing the top ranked drugs on our list which could prove to be even more significant and make a real difference in the fight against COVID-19.

“Now that we have the crucial data, it’s essential that we get on with testing these drugs as quickly as possible.”