- Oxford and Harvard Medical School create AI tool EVEscape to predict virus mutations.
- EVEscape was successful in predicting how Covid-19 would change using old data from February 2020.
- The tool may help in designing vaccines that can fight variants before they become widespread.
This AI model is designed to predict new variants of viruses before they even emerge, a feature that could be a game-changer in the realm of public health.
EVEscape, or Evolutionary Model of Variant Effect, is far more than just a theoretical concept. According to the researchers, had this tool been available at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could have accurately forecasted the mutations that the virus would undergo.
The primary aim of EVEscape is to aid in the creation of vaccines by examining how viruses evolve in response to the human immune system.
The issue of virus mutations has been a pressing concern, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when different strains of the virus led to multiple waves of infections.
These mutations can have various consequences, such as increasing the speed at which the virus spreads or making it more resilient against existing vaccines and treatments.
The Omicron variant, which surfaced in late 2021, serves as a prime example, as it led to widespread infections but did not cause a significant uptick in hospitalizations or deaths.
EVEscape combines deep learning algorithms with intricate biological data about the virus to make its predictions. The researchers explained that the tool operates by assessing the probability of a viral mutation evading immune responses, such as by preventing antibodies from binding effectively to the virus.
During testing, EVEscape utilized data from the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and successfully predicted which mutations would become prevalent.
Pascal Notin, the co-lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of EVEscape.
He stated that the tool would have “accurately predicted” the major mutations of Covid-19 had it been in use earlier. “This work is of tremendous value, both for pandemic surveillance efforts, but also to inform vaccine design in a way that is robust to the emergence of certain at-risk mutations,” he added.
The introduction of EVEscape promises not only to enhance surveillance measures but also to pave the way for preemptive vaccine design that could target potential virus variants before they wreak havoc.