Coronavirus: How your PC’s spare computing power could help discover potential COVID-19 treatments

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A new research project will use the processing power of idle computers to help the treatment of coronavirus — and anyone with an internet connection can take part.

The OpenPandemics-COVID-19 project is designed and run by Scripps Research — a non-profit biomedical research facility –and is being hosted by IBM’s World Community Grid, a crowdsourced computing resource which draws on the power of thousands of machines with the data transferred to researchers via IBM cloud.

Volunteers can use a PC or Mac with an internet connection to download an application which works when the device is idle or in light use, without slowing down the machine.

The software will conduct small virtual experiments to identify chemical compounds, including those in existing medicines, which could potentially be used as treatments for coronavirus. Any compounds which show promise for treating COVID-19 will undergo further testing and analysis.

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It’s hoped that by using using a network of computers from volunteers, it’ll help scientists accelerate drug discovery or drug re-purposing process.

“Tapping the unused processing power on thousands of idle computing devices provides us with an incredible amount of computing power to virtually screen millions of chemical compounds,” said Stefano Forli, assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research, and director of the project

“Our joint effort with volunteers all over the world promises to accelerate our search for new, potential drug candidates that address present and future emerging biological threats, whether it is COVID-19 or an entirely different pathogen,” he added.

People who want to take part in the project don’t need any special expertise to participate and personal information isn’t shared. Like other World Community Grid projects, all of the data generated will be made publicly available.

While the research will initially focus on COVID-19 Scripps Research also plans to develop tools and methods to allow future drug discovery projects to ramp up quickly, such as during potential future pandemics.

Several technology companies have offered their resources to help fight the coronavirus crisis; last week it was reported that Amazon, Microsoft and Palantir are among those helping the UK’s National Health Service analyse data to predict hotspots and decide how to best to use resources.

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