Covid Moonshot, an open-source project to vet potential medicines using machine learning, is closing in on compounds that might help curb Covid-19.

What’s new: Four new antiviral drugs identified by the project are ready to advance to animal trials, according to IEEE Spectrum. Unlike vaccines, which prevent infection, antivirals treat people who are already infected.

How it works: Last spring, PostEra, a UK chemistry company, invited scientists to submit designs for molecules with potential to thwart the virus. It used a semisupervised deep learning platform to analyze more than 14,000 submissions. You can read our earlier report on the project here.

  • More than 30 teams from industry, academia, and independent labs synthesized 1,000 of the most promising compounds.
  • Of those, the project’s organizers determined that four related compounds had the most potential.
  • Volunteers iteratively adjusted the molecules and re-analyzed them to improve their potency.
  • In lab tests, at least one candidate killed the virus without damaging human cells.

Behind the news: Covid Moonshot does not seek to profit from its effort. If any of its compounds successfully complete animal trials, which could happen by mid-2021, they will enter human clinical trials. If they pass that test, they will be made available to drug makers at no cost to manufacture and distribute.

Why it matters: Antivirals typically are far less expensive to produce and easier to distribute than vaccines. These drugs could help keep the pandemic in check while inoculations make their way through the global population.

We’re thinking: Although vaccines are beginning to roll out, now is no time to relax. Keep social distancing and hand washing until public-health experts say otherwise.

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