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Canadian biotechnology firm Cyclica and China-based Institute of Materia Medica have teamed up to identify Covid-19 drug candidates.

The companies aim to develop multi-targeted antiviral compounds.

In order to save time and resources, the partners will focus on drug repurposing using artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

Cyclica’s deep learning engine MatchMaker was used to screen more than 6,700 US FDA-approved drugs as well as candidates with at least Phase I data.

The engine is trained on numerous known human drug-target interactions (DTI) and structural data.

It yielded a database, called PolypharmDB, which comprises clinically assessed molecules and their polypharmacological profiles. These profiles can help find repurposing potential for drug candidates.

Cyclica used MatchMaker and PolypharmDB to explore human targets and also viral proteins with therapeutic relevance for Covid-19. The company identified some molecules with the potential to interact with the putative Covid-19 therapeutic targets.

Institute of Materia Medica will assess Cyclica’s molecules in-vitro and in-vivo. Also, the institute will work with the company to design multi-target antiviral compounds to decrease drug resistance.

Cyclica president and CEO Naheed Kurji said: “We have been closely following the progression of COVID-19 epidemic in China, and increasingly around the world.

“At the same time, we want to contribute our AI platform to searching for innovative therapies to overcome this viral outbreak in a way that is conducive to a rapid response.

“The opportunity to work with the leading scientists at the Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences is one that we couldn’t pass up.”