Academics from University College London  are working with artificial intelligence (AI) firmCausaly , London, UK, to help accelerate various aspects of research into the COVID-19 pandemic, including identification of biomarkers and potential therapeutic agents.

Causaly uses AI techniques to rapidly read, understand, and interpret vast databases of biomedical knowledge. The company uses machine-reading to surface evidence from 30 million biomedical publications in seconds, enabling researchers to rapidly map epidemiology data, biomarker genes, molecular targets and identify potential treatment options.

Earlier this year, UCL Innovation & Enterprise and Causaly began exploring the potential of collaborating on a data-based project together. With the ongoing escalation of COVID-19, the two organizations saw a greater opportunity to bring their collective expertise to bear on the pandemic.

Causaly uses machine-reading to surface evidence from 30 million biomedical publications in seconds, enabling researchers to rapidly map epidemiology data, biomarker genes, molecular targets and identify potential treatment options. (Credit: Causaly)

UCL has been actively working on a number of COVID-19 related research projects, including the development and delivery of a low-cost breathing aid, trials of a potential antiviral, and rapid genome sequencing to better understand the spread of the disease.

Ongoing research into various aspects of the pandemic at UCL could potentially be enhanced by Causaly’s technology and expertise — for example, helping to identify potential molecular targets of the disease.

According to the company, it has been actively optimizing its technology for the current pandemic — working alongside industry, government, and academia. Following an agreement with UCL Innovation & Enterprise, several researchers and groups within UCL actively working on COVID-19 related projects have now been granted access to Causaly technology, with the possibility of more researchers being given access in the near future. Those projects range from the development of therapeutics and diagnostic approaches to epidemiological models, mental health-focused strategies, and healthcare system logistics.

Prof. Spiros Denaxas, from the UCL Institute of Health Informatics, says, “As a medical researcher working at the interface between care and research, Causaly allows me to rapidly ingest, analyze and derive insights from huge amounts of biomedical literature. Importantly, it allows us to focus on the translation of our research by enabling us to triangulate evidence derived from research and clinical guidelines.”

“Our partnership with Causaly strengthens UCL’s research and innovation tools to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, giving our researchers superior access to existing biomedical knowledge,” says Dr. Vassilis Georgiadis, senior partnerships manager (Pharma & Healthcare) in the Business & Innovation Partnerships team, UCL Innovation & Enterprise. What’s impressive is that Causaly’s platform mimics how humans read cognitively. The company is looking to understand the context of data in text itself, extracting evidence and causality, which we hope will provide significant benefits to our research groups working on COVID-19 related projects.”

The Power of AI in the Pandemic

COVID-19 shares some molecular pathway similarities with other betacoronaviruses, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (SARS-CoV) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (MERS-CoV). Causaly’s AI platform enables the rapid identification of all previously reported drugs for the betacoronavirus genus and also uncovers relationships that would not be obvious from a traditional literature review search. Causaly’s AI additionally allows users to find biomarker genes and potential molecular targets of a disease.

“By using Causaly, UCL researchers will be able to unlock hidden evidence in biomedical literature faster, exploring mechanisms of action, treatments, side effects, and more, using our cause-and-effect database that maps over 170 million relationships,” says Yiannis Kiachopoulos, cofounder and CEO at Causaly. “Our goal is to help accelerate research efforts into COVID-19, and we're delighted to be working with UCL, one of the world's leading academic research institutions, at this critical time.”

“At UCL Innovation & Enterprise, we have long championed collaboration between universities, industry, government and other innovative partners as being critical to solving some of society’s most pressing challenges,” adds UCL’s Vice-Provost (Enterprise), Dr. Celia Caulcott. “Never has this been more relevant than today, as we mobilize to find solutions to an unprecedented global pandemic. This partnership with Causaly puts us on the best possible footing to work together during this crisis — and I am sure on different projects in the future.”