BioNTech, InstaDeep develop and successfully test early warning system to detect potential high-risk SARS-CoV-2 variants-

January 13, 2022

TAP) - BioNTech SE and Tunisian InstaDeep Ltd announced on Tuesday the development of a new computational method that analyses worldwide available sequencing data and predicts high-risk variants of SARS-CoV-2.

The Early Warning System (EWS) developed in collaboration by BioNTech and InstaDeep is based on artificial intelligence (AI) calculated immune escape and fitness metrics.

The new method combines structural modeling of the viral Spike protein and AI algorithms to quickly flag potential high-risk variants entered into SARS-CoV-2 sequence data repositories within less than a day based on metrics scoring their fitness as well as their immune escape properties, reads a BioNTech press release issued Tuesday.

The companies validated these predictions using experimental data generated in-house and publicly available data.

During the trial period, the system has identified >90% of the World Health Organization (WHO)-designated variants (Variants of Concern, VOC; Variants of Interest, VOI; Variants Under Monitoring,VUM) on average two months in advance. WHO-designated variants Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta, Eta and Omicron were detected by the EWS in the same week its sequence was first uploaded.

The Omicron variant was ranked as a high-risk variant the same day its sequence became available.

The IHU variant observed in France has also been evaluated by the EWS, which highlighted immune escape properties that are relatively similar to Omicron but with significantly lower fitness, making it less of a concern given current data.

The results from the study underline that the EWS is capable of evaluating new variants in minutes and risk monitoring variant lineages nearly in real-time. It is also fully scalable as new variant data becomes available.

«With the advanced computational methods we have been developing over the past months we can analyse sequence information of the Spike protein and rank new variants according to their predicted immune escape and ACE2 binding score,» said Ugur Sahin, M.D., Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of BioNTech.

«Early flagging of potential high-risk variants could be an effective tool to alert researchers, vaccine developers, health authorities and policy makers, thereby providing more time to respond to new variants of concern,» he added.

For his part, Co-Founder and CEO of InstaDeep Karim Beguir said that more than 10,000 novel variant sequences are currently discovered every week and human experts simply cannot cope with complex data at this scale. We've addressed this challenge by deploying the powerful AI capabilities of InstaDeep's DeepChain platform combined with BioNTech's SARS-CoV-2 know-how and technology.

'For the first time, high-risk variants could be detected on the spot, potentially saving months of precious time. We are happy to make our research work publicly available and, most importantly, look forward to its continued real-world impact,» he added.


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