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Relation-Mila collaboration wins $1.3m Gates Foundation Award to fight COVID-19

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Relation receives $1.3m grant funding from the Gates Foundation to identify COVID-19 therapeutic candidates.

Relation Therapeutics (a Juvenescence-incubated company) and Mila, the Montreal-based AI research institute today announced that they are collaborating on a new project targeting the development of COVID-19 therapeutics. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to the tune of $1.3m, Project RE aims to leverage the most powerful machine learning techniques to find therapies to tackle viral entry and replication.

Longevity.Technology: Age is the biggest risk factor for COVID-19 – people older than 80 are 20 times more likely to die from it than people in their 50s, and hundreds of times more likely to die than people under 40 [1]. The interest in fighting the coronavirus and preventing a similar pandemic is prompting greater interest and investment in improving how societies age, as well as in slowing down biological aging itself. Leveraging the enormous banks of data available may not only prove vital in the fight against COVID-19, but could progress Longevity science immeasurably. 

With overall scientific direction from Mila founder and Turing Award winner Professor Yoshua Bengio, Project RE hopes to create a platform to develop therapies that appropriately modulate the immune response through distinct stages of infection and identify repurposed drug combinations as potential therapeutic candidates for COVID-19. According to this morning’s press release, Project RE aims to “leverage the most powerful machine learning techniques currently being deployed in the world’s largest tech companies and academia, to revolutionise computational drug development.”

Dr Charles Campbell Roberts, Relation Therapeutics’ Chairperson, said: “Relation is honoured to work with the Gates Foundation in seeking to rapidly identify COVID-19 therapeutic candidates. Graph ML is at the cutting edge of machine learning, underlying core recommender technologies at tech giants such as Pinterest and is a key research topic at DeepMind. Relation is amongst the first to deploy these approaches directly in drug development, and has been deeply fortunate in attracting so many of the leading scientists in the space to this mission.”

 

Professor Yoshua Bengio, founder of Mila
Professor Yoshua Bengio, Mila

 

Professor Yoshua Bengio, Mila founder, said: “Using advances in machine learning we can integrate many sources of information about a disease, and build systems that improve over time using active learning. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has identified this approach as a perfect opportunity to use ML to correctly identify and evaluate potential drug combinations as therapeutic approaches for COVID-19, by searching colossal combinatorial space as fast as possible.”

Relation’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr David Roblin, who is overseeing the platform creation, said: “Our race together is to beat COVID-19 and improve patient outcomes by identifying existing therapeutics that can be repurposed. To do this we have assembled an outstanding team with Mila and Relation data science, machine learning, biology and drug development expertise. This is essential funding to enable these efforts.”

When we interviewed Juvenescence CEO Greg Bailey recently (Interview Part 1 & Part 2), he told us he was “delighted” by the Gates Award. “We have put together an extraordinary team, and it shows because the Gates Foundation have awarded us the contract to use our machine learning to find drug combinations and repurpose drugs for COVID. We are delighted to have won this contract and to have this quality of talent around the project! Considering we started Relation in August last year, to be one of the finalists for the Gates Foundation Award, and to actually have the contract, is amazing.”

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-020-2521-4

Image credit: JamesWM.foto / Shutterstock
Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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