COVID-19 global research, the significance of data analytics and evidence-based AI

COVID-19 global research, the significance of data analytics and evidence-based AI

March 14, 2020 | Latest Updates – There are reports from the Netherlands that a group of researchers from the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and Utrecht University are first in the world to discover an antibody capable of fending off infection by the Covid-19 variant of coronavirus.

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The disease has spread globally since 2019, resulting in the 2019–20 coronavirus pandemic. 

RESEARCH AND INNOVATION IN AN ERA OF PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCIES

According to an update posted on Utrecht University website:

Researchers from Utrecht University, together with fellow researchers from Erasmus MC and biotech company Harbor BioMed, have developed a human antibody that can inhibit the new coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

Research leader and last author Berend-Jan Bosch (Utrecht University) does not want to raise false expectations. It is a promising first step, but it is far too early to speculate about the potential efficacy in humans. The research is being reviewed by a leading scientific journal.

The research is currently awaiting peer review before it can be published in the prestigious science journal Nature. According to reports in the Dutch news media, researchers are now trying to get a pharmaceutical company on board that can produce the antibody on a large scale as a medicine.

‘Before it can be marketed, the antibody must go through an extensive development phase and be tested for toxicological properties,’ Erasmus professor Frank Grosveld told Erasmus Magazine. ‘That process is now underway. In addition to the development as a medicine, we also want to use the antibody to set up a diagnostic test: one that everyone can do from home so that people can easily find out whether they have an infection or not.’

A human monoclonal 1 antibody blocking SARS-CoV-2 infection: These preliminary findings have been published by bioRxiv, a free online archive and distribution service for unpublished preprints in the life sciences. bioRxiv is receiving many new papers on coronavirus 2019-nCoV with a reminder that these are preliminary reports that have not been peer-reviewed. They should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behaviour. This article by Dutch researchers was published on March 12, 2020 at this link.

CAUTION:

While the Dutch scientists have found an antibody against the virus, and the discovery of the antibody is big news, but there is no breakthrough yet. This is what virologist Ab Osterhaus cautions, one of the researchers who contributed to the discovery of Erasmus MC and Utrecht University. 

Virologist Ab Osterhaus, who was also involved in the research, told the Dutch publication Telegraaf that optimism about a medicine should be tempered. Osterhaus said he could ‘think of a lot of reasons’ why the antibody might not lead to a medicine. Many of these sorts of findings don’t make it, he said. ‘You must not think that you can make a few kilos of this medicine and the world will be saved,’ he told the paper.

“There are currently no targeted drugs available against Covid-19,” the researchers write in their paper. “This antibody provides the potential to treat or prevent Covid-19 and possibly other human diseases caused by viruses from this subspecies.”

In the article, Grosveld says that he and his fellow researchers had already isolated an antibody before the current pandemic. They then examined antibodies to mers, sars and a Hong Kong coronavirus. They found antibodies that reacted with those three different viruses.

DATA ANALYTICS AND THE ROLE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Globally, healthcare startups have already begun testing AI algorithms to study COVID-19 pattern recognition or relevant variations that may help with early disease detection. Countries are releasing emergency funds to aid in research and development of diagnostic kits, vaccines and medicines.

There’s already some work in progress internationally to study the role of deep learning algorithms relating to pattern recognition on Chest CT scans. When it comes to detecting abnormalities in lung imaging, focused work has already been done in this space, hence with COVID-19 it may not require a lot of work to further improve the sensitivity and specificity of AI algorithms. However, there’s still more work to be done and international validation required.

On March 11, the ACR® Data Science Institute® (DSI) has published an artificial intelligence (AI) use case on COVID-19 , which is now open for public comment. Expert radiologists rapidly developed the use case to offer the developer community medical context — including necessary inputs, outputs and possible corollary features — for developing an AI solution to detect COVID-19.

Recently, some papers have been published reviewing the role of RT-PCR and Chest CT Scans, CT can play a vital role in the early detection and management of COVID-19. However, it is worth emphasizing that a patient with reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) confirmed COVID-19 infection may have normal chest CT findings at admission. (Ref: link)

A couple of early CT imaging patient case studies coming out of China in the past month reported COVID-19 was preliminarily diagnosed from CT scans in several patients before they started to show positive RT-PCR test results. Additional COVID-19 radiology research can be found at Special Focus: COVID-19.

UPWARD TRAJECTORY OR FLATTENED CURVE? WHAT IS THE DATA TELLING US SO FAR

As the coronavirus spreads rapidly around the world, several countries seem to be moving along the same trajectory. According to numbers by Johns Hopkins collected by the website Worldometers, case counts in the U.S., Germany and France have been growing at almost the same rate since hitting 100+ cases, which happened on February 29 in France, March 1 in Germany and March 2 in the U.S.

In the case of Italy, where there are currently more than 15,000 cases and public life has pretty much shut down, the growth curve looks a little – but not a lot – steeper than for the countries mentioned earlier. Italy hit 100 cases on February 23, about a week earlier than Germany, France and the U.S.

Germany, the U.S. and France could still hopefully swing into the trajectory South Korea took. Currently, the country has the fourth most cases after China, Italy and Iran. Widespread free testing (including the now-infamous drive-thru testing), quarantine measures and the harnessing of mobile technology for public information have so far amounted to an effective campaign to slow the spread of the virus. The country hit 100 cases on February 20 and managed to leave the steep upward trajectory around 14 days later. Yet, European countries and the U.S. have yet to introduce testing as rigorous as carried out in South Korea.

Chart Source: Statista

WHAT ARE THE GOVERNMENTS DOING

CANADA: The Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, has outlined Canada’s whole-of-government response to COVID-19, by establishing a more than $1 billion COVID-19 Response Fund. This comprehensive approach includes measures already underway to respond to the outbreak, as well as new investments to limit the spread of the virus in Canada and prepare for its possible broader impacts on people, economy, and small businesses.

USA: President Donald Trump has declared a national emergency over the new coronavirus disease, COVID-19. “To unleash the full power of the federal government I am officially declaring a national emergency,” President Trump announced Friday (March 13) during a press conference. “Two very big words.” This declaration will “open up access” to federal funds — some $50 billion — to fight COVID-19, he said.

UNITED KINGDOM: The UK has allocated 12 billion euro ($13.37 billion) for coronavirus-related spending. The response to coronavirus includes 5 billion euros for the National Health Service (NHS), other benefits and tax changes to support self-employed and small businesses in the country.

THE EU: The European Union has also pledged to invest 25 billion euros ($27.86 billion) to bear the coronavirus impact. EU, which fosters 28 member countries, said that it would bear the expenses of sick pay for small businesses and had announced a business rates holiday for people working in hospitality, leisure, and retail sectors.

ITALY: Italy, in response to the coronavirus outbreak, has already declared a 25 billion euro ($27.86 billion) package to push its deficit beyond the 3 percent limit this year. Mortgage payments are suspended across the country.

THE OPPORTUNITY AHEAD

COVID-19 pandemic should be taken as an opportunity where the global community, academia and world leaders join forces to enable the exchange of knowledge, expertise, technology and data analytics for the betterment of our well-being. After all, AI, machines and technology can only augment human intelligence in a collaborative framework, if developed and validated with an evidence-based approach, designed to improve outcomes. Is there a need for a global body that leads a global effort that brings the best of global minds and technology together?

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