Under a collaboration between IBM and Scripps Research, anyone in the world with a PC, laptop or Mac and an internet connection will be able to help scientists seek chemical compounds that might be effective against COVID-19.
To do so, volunteers’ devices will perform small, virtual experiments to identify chemical compounds, including those in existing medicines, that might be used as treatments candidates for COVID-19. Compounds that show promise for treating COVID-19 will undergo further testing and analysis.
Volunteers download a small, safe app that works when their devices are otherwise idle or in light use. Operating unobtrusively in the background without slowing users’ systems, the app distributes computational assignments and returns completed calculations to researchers, all via the IBM cloud. Volunteers need not have any special technical expertise to participate; the process is automatic and secure. Personal information is never shared, and the software cannot access personal or business files. (You can sign up to participate at www.ibm.org/OpenPandemics.)
By crowdsourcing power from thousands of computing devices, the project, called “OpenPandemics – COVID-19,” will easily be able perform hundreds of millions of calculations needed for simulations. This can potentially accelerate the drug discovery or drug re-purposing process, traditionally performed more slowly in a traditional laboratory. As with all of IBM’s World Community Grid projects, all data generated by this effort will be made publicly available.
“Scripps Research is grateful to IBM for hosting our project on World Community Grid,” said Stefano Forli, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research, and director of the project. “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. 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.”
While the project 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 other pandemics.
World Community Grid, an IBM corporate social responsibility initiative, is a longstanding effort provided free to scientists who need massive computing power to study humanitarian issues. Its software allows people to use their computers as normal without compromising data safety or speed.
“IBM’s World Community Grid is a resource that not only empowers scientists to accelerate vital work on a large scale, but also gives volunteers a sense of empowerment, joining with others all over the globe to make a difference,” said Guillermo Miranda, VP and head of corporate social responsibility at IBM. “During a time of social distancing and isolation, this sense of purpose and interconnectedness is as important as ever.”
To date, more than 770,000 people and 450 organizations have contributed nearly two million years of computing power on World Community Grid to support 30 research projects, including studies on cancer, Ebola, Zika and malaria and AIDS, as well as projects for developing better water filtration systems and solar energy collection.