IBM is partnering with scientists for an international study that will use supercomputing power to identify potential drug candidates to cure the Zika virus.
By carrying out virtual experiments on compounds that could form the basis of antiviral drugs to cure the virus, the research initiative is expected to generate results with more speed than possible in a traditional lab.
There is no cure or vaccine against Zika, which is linked to a number of serious neurological disorders. The World Health Organization has declared the rise in related birth defects an international emergency.
The OpenZika project will screen compounds from existing molecule databases against models of Zika protein and crystal structures, with results being quickly shared with the research community and general public. Promising compounds would then be tested in the collaborators' laboratories.
People with a computer or Android device can contribute to the project by running an app that uses up spare computing power and automatically performs virtual experiments for scientists whenever the machines are idle.
Carried out via IBM's World Community Grid, the OpenZika initiative is co-led by the Federal University of Goiás and supported by the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil. It also includes Rutgers University's New Jersey Medical School and the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California San Diego.
"Enlisting the help of World Community Grid volunteers will enable us to computationally evaluate over 20 million compounds in just the initial phase and potentially up to 90 million compounds in future phases," said Carolina Horta Andrade, Ph.D., adjunct professor at the Federal University of Goiás in Brazil and the lead researcher on the OpenZika project.
"Running the OpenZika project on World Community Grid will allow us to greatly expand the scale of our project, and it will accelerate the rate at which we can obtain the results toward an antiviral drug for the Zika virus."