A-Alpha Bio lands Gates Foundation drug development grant

By Jenni Spinner contact

- Last updated on GMT

(Design Cells/iStock via Getty Images Plus)
(Design Cells/iStock via Getty Images Plus)

Related tags: Drug discovery, machine learning, Artificial intelligence, COVID-19, Coronavirus

The $800K grant will fund development of therapeutics for infectious diseases, including respiratory viruses like COVID-19, using machine learning.

A-Alpha Bio has been awarded a $800,000 grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The funding will be used to discover and develop therapies for infectious diseases, using the company’s AlphaSeq technology.

According to A-Alpha bio, the company already has wrapped a pilot study, designed to demonstrate the AlphaSeq technology’s ability to characterize binding of therapeutic antibodies against multiple pathogen strains at once, with partner Lumen Bioscience. The grant money will go toward use of AlphaSeq data to ‘train’ machine learning models to develop therapeutics for respiratory and intestinal pathogens.

Intestinal and respiratory pathogens cause significant health burdens around the globe. Health officials estimate that in developing countries, intestinal bacterial pathogens cause more than 500,000 deaths each year in children under five. Additionally, approximately 12m cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide, with more than half a million deaths, as of early July.

Jim Roberts, chief science officer of Lumen Bioscience, said that one pressing challenge common to both bacterial and viral pathogens is strain diversity.

Due to strain diversity, treating infections caused by enteric pathogens requires broadly cross-reactive drugs and COVID-19 has highlighted the necessity for a more rapid drug development pipeline​,” he said. “By enabling a higher throughput of antibody-antigen binding characterization, AlphaSeq, coupled with machine learning, can make a meaningful difference in the development of new drugs for many high-impact disease targets​.”

AlphaSeq is a ‘multi-target’ antibody screening platform, which lets researchers measure millions of interactions between proteins with high quantitative accuracy. The support from the Gates Foundation reportedly will enable A-Alpha Bio and Lumen to use the AlphaSeq platform to measure binding between antibody candidates and multiple strain variants; datasets will then be used to train machine learning models and predict antibody sequences likely to neutralize a broad diversity of pathogenic strains.

David Younger, CEO and co-founder of A-Alpha Bio, said, “This next phase of our work with Lumen is happening at a critical time. Our hope is that by continuing to scale drug development capabilities through the AlphaSeq platform, we can accelerate the development of new, life-saving drugs for enteric and respiratory infectious diseases.”

“The AlphaSeq platform outputs datasets that are perfectly suited for building ML models​,” added Randolph Lopez, chief technical officer and co-founder of A-Alpha Bio. “By multiplying the power of AlphaSeq’s datasets through machine learning models, we will be able to scale protein testing even further and improve the prediction of antibody sequences with desired properties, including affinity, specificity, and cross-reactivity​.”

According to A-Alpha Bio, the machine learning models will be used to predict potent antibodies against novel pathogen strains and antibodies demonstrating cross-reactivity to multiple strains. If successful, this approach could have broad implications for the development of therapeutics for highly diverse and newly emerging infectious diseases, including enteric bacterial pathogens and respiratory viruses like COVID-19.

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