27 Apr 2020   |   Network Updates   |   Update from University College London
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UCL partners with AI specialists Causaly to accelerate coronavirus research


UCL academics are working with Causaly to help accelerate various aspects of research into the Covid-19 pandemic, including identification of biomarkers and potential therapeutic agents.

Causaly is an innovative technology company that uses artificial intelligence (AI) techniques to rapidly read, understand and interpret vast databases of biomedical knowledge. The company uses machine-reading to surface evidence from 30 million biomedical publications in seconds, enabling researchers to rapidly map epidemiology data, biomarker genes, molecular targets and identify potential treatment options.

A synergy of biomedical expertise

Earlier this year, UCL Innovation & Enterprise and Causaly began exploring the potential of collaborating on a data-based project together. Then with the ongoing escalation of Covid-19, the two organisations saw a greater opportunity to bring their collective expertise to bear on the pandemic. 

UCL has been actively working on a number of Covid-19 related research projects, including the development and delivery of a low-cost breathing aid, trials of a potential antiviral and rapid genome sequencing to better understand the spread of the disease.

Ongoing research into various aspects of the pandemic at UCL could potentially be enhanced by Causaly’s technology and expertise, for example, helping to identify potential molecular targets of the disease.

The company has been actively optimising its technology for the current pandemic, working alongside industry, government and academia.

Following an agreement with UCL Innovation & Enterprise, several researchers and groups within UCL, all actively working on Covid-19-related projects, have now been granted access to Causaly technology (with the possibility of more researchers being given access in the near future). Those projects range from the development of therapeutics and diagnostic approaches, to epidemiological models, mental health-focused strategies and healthcare system logistics.

Professor Spiros Denaxas, from the UCL Institute of Health Informatics, comments: “As a medical researcher working at the interface between care and research, Causaly allows me to rapidly ingest, analyse and derive insights from huge amounts of biomedical literature. Importantly, it allows us to focus on the translation of our research by enabling us to triangulate evidence derived from research and clinical guidelines.”

Dr Vassilis Georgiadis, Senior Partnerships Manager (Pharma & Healthcare) in the Business & Innovation Partnerships team, UCL Innovation & Enterprise, added: “Our partnership with Causaly strengthens UCL’s research and innovation tools towards battling the Covid-19 pandemic, giving our researchers superior access to existing biomedical knowledge. What's impressive is that Causaly's platform mimics how humans read cognitively. The company is looking to understand the context of data in text itself, extracting evidence and causality, which we hope will provide significant benefits to our research groups working on Covid-19 related projects.”

The power of AI in the pandemic

Covid-19 shares some molecular pathway similarities with other betacoronaviruses, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (SARS-CoV) and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (MERS-CoV). Causaly’s AI platform enables the rapid identification of all previously reported drugs for the betacoronavirus genus and also uncovers relationships that would not be obvious by traditional literature review search. Causaly AI additionally allows users to find biomarker genes and potential molecular targets of a disease.

Yiannis Kiachopoulos, Co-Founder CEO at Causaly, said: “By using Causaly, UCL researchers will be able to unlock hidden evidence in biomedical literature faster, exploring mechanisms of action, treatments, side effects and more using our cause-and-effect database which maps over 170 million relationships. Our goal is to help accelerate research efforts into Covid-19, and we're delighted to be working with UCL, one of the world's leading academic research institutions, at this critical time.” 

UCL’s Vice-Provost (Enterprise), Dr Celia Caulcott, added: “At UCL Innovation & Enterprise we have long championed collaboration between universities, industry, government and other innovative partners as being critical to solving some of society’s most pressing challenges. Never has this been more relevant than today, as we mobilise to find solutions to an unprecedented global pandemic. This partnership with Causaly puts us on the best possible footing to work together during this crisis, and I am sure on different projects in the future.”

If you're a member of UCL staff working on a Covid-19 related research project and would benefit from access to Causaly's platform, please contact UCL Innovation & Enterprise at [email protected]

This article was first published on 21 April by UCL.

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