3 Jun 2024

Why Artificial Intelligence Is the Future of Vaccine Development

Biology Technology

How will this technology change the way we tackle pandemics like Covid-19?  

EVEscape, developed by The Debora Marks Lab at Harvard Medical School and OATML at the University of Oxford, is a new computational method of variant prediction that uses artificial intelligence.   


How Are Variants Caused and What Is the Problem With This?

As a virus replicates itself a change in its genetic sequence can occur. This is known as a mutation and can lead to a new variant. This evolution over time means that the variants with the more advantageous characteristics, will have greater resistance to selection pressures, such as a human’s immune system. Thus, can survive, reproduce, and become more transmissible.  

Another problem is that the resistance a person gains from a vaccination may be completely ineffective when in contact with the new variant. So, the body must go through its primary response once again, resulting in long term infection and symptoms that could be life threatening. This is why vaccines are always having to be redeveloped. This reduces the effectiveness of herd immunity when dealing with pandemics such as Covid-19. An example is Omicron, a variant of the virus SARS-CoV-2 that caused one of the biggest strains of COVID-19. A new vaccine was required to treat it and it even led to subvariants.    

How Does EVEscape Work?   

The tool has two components. Which includes a model of evolutionary sequences that predicts changes that can occur to a virus and detailed biological and structural information about the virus from different data sources. This then allows a probability to be calculated about the likelihood of antibody escape for a viral mutation. This is then used to determine the threat level of the forecasted variant.    

EVEscape can use data from any stage of an outbreak including the early stages which was not a feature of previous models. It can also continue the evaluation of emerging strains. So, it is the ideal tool for dealing with viral outbreaks.  

EVEscape was able to successfully predict the most concerning new variants that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, this technology was not ready during the actual period of this pandemic. But will hopefully help to control the spread and size of potential outbreaks in the future. Other viruses such as HIV and influenza can be observed too.    


What Does This Mean for Vaccine Development?

Time is key for vaccine development. The more warning time given the more optimal the vaccines and treatments will be. Because these variants can be identified so early on using EVEscape, vaccines can be designed before the virus even spreads. Potentially preventing future widespread outbreaks and helping to make earlier public health decisions. This would lower the social and economic repercussions of a pandemic and change the healthcare industry greatly.     


This article was written by Darcey Parker.

Biology Technology
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