Cheaper way to produce drug used to treat COVID-19 discovered

Professor Bartosz Grzybowski and his team have shown how to produce HCQ, a medicine used to treat COVID-19 disease from inexpensive compounds, through the use of his “Chematica” computer program.

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According to the scientific reports from February and March, the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) compounds may help in the treatment of the COVID-19 disease, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. The substances have been known for many decades and have been used to treat malaria, as well as certain autoimmune diseases.

The patent for HCQ expired decades ago so in fact, anyone can produce it. The problem, however, was that in order to produce this compound, a number of chemical reactions needed to be carried out, beginning with simpler substances, which were now difficult to obtain due to increased demand.

Professor Bartosz Grzybowski from the Institute of Organic Chemistry at the Polish Academy of Sciences (IChO PAN) as well as the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, pointed out in an interview with the Polish Press Agency (PAP) that, in turn, a license was needed to carry out these reactions.

In this situation, the professor and his research team decided to show the world how HCQ could be legally synthesised from inexpensive ingredients, bypassing patented chemical reactions.

The scientists used a special computer program, “Chematica”, developed by the IChO PAN. It collects and learns hundreds of thousands of different types of chemical reactions and their allowable relationships, and creates entire reaction pathways. In addition, it is connected to patent databases and catalogues of companies that produce chemical compounds.

The professor told PAP that the AI algorithms search through billions of combinations of chemical reactions and find pathways with optimal properties and, in this way, the computer can be given the task to find a way to synthesise a particular compound from very inexpensive and easily available substrates and to bypass reactions for which a license is needed.

“We began our searches on Saturday, and already on Tuesday we sent our findings out for review,” Doctor Sara Szymkuć, one of the leaders in the work on the “Chematica” program said.

Around 490,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus were recorded worldwide as of Thursday afternoon.