Coronavirus: Using European supercomputing, EU-funded research project announces promising results for potential treatment*

Jun 19, 2020

EU-funded consortium Exscalate4CoV has announced that an already registered generic drug used to treat osteoporosis, Raloxifene, could be an effective treatment for COVID-19 patients with mildly symptomatic infection. The consortium is using an EU-backed supercomputing platform, one of the world's most powerful, to check the potential impact of known molecules against the genomic structure of coronavirus. This is one of many examples of how the EU's research and innovation programme Horizon 2020 is bringing together the best of European researchers, pharmaceutical companies, technologies and research infrastructures to contribute to defeating the virus.

Mariya Gabriel, European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, said: ”Today, we need science more than ever. Since January we have mobilised all our efforts to support R&I actors in their respective fields to find solutions and stop the virus. This is why we have provided Exscalate4CoV with €3 million to fund their research, and I welcome the promising results they have achieved.”

Thierry Breton, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, said: “The Exscalate4Cov platform brings innovation to drug discovery in Europe and worldwide. It demonstrates the value of true pan-European cooperation by joining the best capacities Europe has to offer in the fields of biomedical science and high-performance computing. We will continue to mobilise all technologies available, including artificial intelligence, to fight the coronavirus.”

Exscalate4CoV, using a unique combination of high performance computing power and AI with biological processing, brings together 18 partners and further 15 associated members. This includes supercomputing centres in Italy, Spain and Germany, large research centres, pharmaceutical companies and biological institutes from across Europe. The platform has around 120 Petaflops computing power, allowing research into the behaviors of molecules with the aim of identifying an effective treatment against coronavirus. The project's chemical library is constantly growing thanks to agreements with newly associated pharmaceutical companies.

The consortium has already virtually tested 400 000 molecules using its supercomputers. 7 000 molecules were preselected and further tested “in vitro”. Raloxifene emerged as a promising molecule: according to the project, it could be effective in blocking the replication of the virus in cells, and could thus hold up the progression of the disease. Researchers have indicated that its advantages include its high patient tolerability, safety and established toxicological profile.

As a next step, the consortium will be discussing with the European Medicines Agency how to advance to clinical trials to evaluate the new potential use for Raloxifene. If successful, the drug could be quickly made available in high volumes and at low cost.

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