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Dengue threat to be tackled using AI-powered drug discovery as BenevolentAI teams up with DNDi

It is one of the top 10 global health threats, with an estimated 390 million infections each year across more than 100 countries and no specific treatment available.

Now dengue is to be tackled in a research project involving Babraham Research Campus-based company BenevolentAI and the not-for-profit organisation Drugs for Neglected Disease initiative (DNDi).

BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

The non-commercial collaboration will deploy the Benevolent Platform - the company’s AI drug discovery technology - to derive a list of potential biological targets that could be targeted by drugs, and identify existing drugs that could be repurposed to prevent patients with the infection progressing to severe disease.

DNDi will provide expertise and a global network of partners in dengue to help researchers uncover insights they could not find using human reasoning alone.

BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell
BenevolentAI at Babraham Research Campus. Picture: Keith Heppell

“There is no effective treatment for dengue and millions of patients across the globe urgently need safe, effective, affordable and accessible treatment options. Being able to apply cutting edge AI technology in this partnership with BenevolentAI to help neglected patients opens an exciting new opportunity to rapidly identify promising drug candidates and later test them in clinical trials,” said Dr Charles Mowbray, discovery director at DNDi.

Dengue is a climate-sensitive neglected disease. The viral infection is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes and it is a leading cause of serious illness and death in some Asian and Latin American countries, although most infections remain mild.

BenevolentAI’s approach helped identify a leading Covid-19 treatment through drug repurposing in early 2020. It was approved for emergency use by the FDA.

Dr Anne Phelan, CSO, BenevolentAI
Dr Anne Phelan, CSO, BenevolentAI

“With dengue spreading at a rapid pace, and climate change predicted to further intensify the impact and spread of the disease, it is all the more critical to accelerate research into new treatment options,” said Anne Phelan, chief scientific officer at BenevolentAI.

“The global scientific response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and BenevolentAI’s Covid-19 research, provided a clear example of how AI can help us respond to pressing global health challenges.

“BenevolentAI’s vast integrated knowledge graph coupled with our AI tools enable us to build a comprehensive representation of disease biology and accelerate the discovery of new treatments. Our partnership with the DNDi builds on this approach, with a goal to address urgent patient needs and help relieve pressure on overburdened health systems.”

The most promising drug candidates identified during the project will be taken to clinical trials with dengue-endemic countries.

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