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June 5, 2020

IBM’s OpenPandemics Tool Lets You Contribute to Big Data Analysis of COVID-19

Oliver Peckham

(red_diamond/Shutterstock)

If you’re not a researcher, you may feel a little helpless in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – but if you have a computer or a smartphone, you may actually be able to help researchers find drugs that could fight COVID-19. IBM has announced a collaboration with medical research nonprofit Scripps Research to provide a tool called OpenPandemics that allows anyone to donate their computing resources to scanning mountains of data in the search for COVID-19 therapeutics.

Out of the innumerable molecules that could be delivered as a drug, only a handful are likely to be effective at combating COVID-19. These massive molecular datasets are often too large for individual labs to handle, necessitating the use of outside supercomputers – or, as in this case, crowdsourced computing. Scripps’ molecular modeling simulations, which test how well various molecules bind to COVID-19’s essential viral proteins, are now being run on IBM’s World Community Grid. The World Community Grid powers the simulations using donated computing resources from idle Android phones, desktops, and laptops with the free app installed.

“Scripps Research is grateful to IBM for hosting our project on World Community Grid,” said Stefano Forli, director of the OpenPandemics project and assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Structural and Computational Biology at Scripps Research. “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.”

The most promising candidates identified by the OpenPandemics project will be passed along to medical laboratories for synthesis and testing in real-world environments, and all data and tools produced through the project will be made available free of charge to the scientific community. The research team doesn’t want to stop there, though: they also want to create a “fast-response, open source toolkit that will help all scientists quickly search for treatments for future pandemics.” 

“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 participate in the OpenPandemics project, join the World Community Grid here.

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