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The Race For Life

How technology is building an arsenal for the medical community -- from research to clinical trials -- in their fight against disease

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Not in at least a hundred years has the global medical community found itself confronted with a challenge as wide and deep as the COVID-19 pandemic. With resources stretched thin worldwide across the medical spectrum -- from caregiving to administrative support -- and from infrastructure to research, it is technology such as artificial intelligence in medical research or the use of digital technology in clinical trials that are helping humans in their fight against the Novel Coronavirus.

 India, too, like the rest of the world, is part of this ongoing race to find a cure. A leading Indian pharma company had to undertake clinical trials for two of its drugs for COVID-19 patients. Typically, these trials would require that research associates to be present at the hospital or research facility to monitor proceedings in person and in real time. But lockdown restrictions posed a challenge, making remote monitoring the only viable option. The pharma company was also up against a deadline to kick off trials at the earliest and looking to accelerate its timeline to test and study trial outcomes. It was technology that offered a solution.

TCS’ Advanced Drug Development (ADD) Analytics and Insights Platform furthered a digital transformation in clinical trials as it allowed the pharma team to remotely review critical parameters and key performance indices, execute data driven decisions and enable targeted operational monitoring. The pharma company was tech-enabled to manage the trials remotely using the TCSS ADD Platform setup in a record two weeks.

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In a separate research endeavor at TCS’ Innovation Lab in Hyderabad, India, a team of TCS Research and Innovation (R&I) scientists from the Life Sciences unit identified 31 molecular compounds that hold promise towards finding a cure for COVID-19. Artificial Intelligence (AI) was a key part of this discovery process. The scientists began by focusing on de-novo drug design and the setting up of an AI model. The fundamental strength of AI is that it can rapidly evaluate multiple scenarios with a multitude of parameters while problem-solving; AI and medical research therefore make for a potent combination. It is important to remember that the molecular universe comprises zillions of molecules, and the world of chemistry has probably looked at just about a 100 million of these. The next step in this Life Sciences R&I [SR1] research project was to ask the AI model specifically about the SARS-Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that spawned COVID-19. “We filtered the suggestions of the AI model to a set of 1,450 molecules, and further shortlisted 31 that could possibly be synthesized for further testing,” said Dr Gopalakrishnan Bulusu, a principal scientist involved in the exploration. The results from the research -- put together by Dr Bulusu, Dr Arijit Roy, Dr Navneet Bung and Ms. Sowmya Krishnan -- have been published in the preprint open access chemistry archive, ‘ChemRxiv’. The team is working closely with India’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that agreed to provide its labs for the synthesized testing of these 31 molecular compounds. While much is still to come, for now, TCS R&I has taken its first step in the global battle against coronavirus.

Digital technology has also taken center stage in other non-pandemic areas of medical research in India.  TCS and IIT Delhi have had collaborated in a biopharmaceutical research program to digitize continuous bioprocessing by integrating multiple unit operations into a single process and optimizing the entire bioprocessing train as a whole. The larger goal in continuous bioprocess manufacturing (CBM) is to ensure that biopharma products are developed and tested in continual fashion.

And as part of its initiative in overall cancer research, TCS has partnered with Tata Medical Center (TMC) in Kolkata to setup Tata Translational Cancer Research Centre (TTCRC) to create an interactive environment for clinicians, scientists and the larger cancer care industry to work together to drive disease research. The goal is to integrate scientific enquiry into routine clinical practice; bridging the translational gap between inquiry, investigation and application for patients with cancer. State-of-the art laboratories for genomics, imaging and proteomics have been completed with infrastructure that includes next-generation sequencers, confocal microscopy, mass spectrometry, 3D culture systems and so on.

All of these explorations in scientific inquiry stem from the universal human need to fight disease, regardless of whether they are driven by viruses, are bacterial infestations, or are of oncological nature. Inarguably, digital technology has taken the lead in this race to save, enhance and preserve human life.

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