By healthcare writer Steve Loader
So, you think we’re done with COVID? Have vaccinations won the day and reduced COVID to the status of flu, with annual top up vaccinations for the vulnerable and an end to lockdowns, masks, and economic disruption?
Wrong. COVID might not look like the killer it was, with infection and recovery now mostly a minor irritation, but it continues to leave a sinister trail of ‘graffiti’ across our bodies.
But unlike graffiti on a wall or the side of a train, it can’t simply be scrubbed off or painted over. New research – including that from Cambridge University and Imperial College, London – shows that this post-COVID graffiti is likely to be present even if you had only mild to moderate symptoms.
It can age vital bodily organs and systems – including the heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain – by up to 20 years, weaken immune response, and contribute to many other health issues.
This long-term damage from COVID is building a further massive healthcare challenge on top of three years of no face-to-face doctor’s appointments and long-delayed procedures and operations. Delayed in-person care has meant that major killers like cancer and heart disease have been discovered too late in many patients, who needed much earlier consultations.
How do we address these problems and come up with smarter, newer, and more dynamic healthcare solutions?
Yet more spending on our current healthcare model won’t do. That approach was built to deal with small numbers of people needing immediate treatment for acute conditions or end-of-life care – a ‘sticking plaster’ approach already shown to be broken without the pressures from the pandemic, and now visibly unable to meet post-pandemic healthcare demands.
Our entire approach to healthcare must be re-drawn instead, in favour of prevention, early intervention, point of care treatment and delivering greater patient longevity.
The continuous vaccine treadmill
Vaccine development and ongoing management of continually emerging COVID variants have played a vital role but added an enormous cost to healthcare that wasn’t there 2-3 years ago. This overhead won’t go away without a permanent solution that denies all current and future COVID variants access to our bodies’ cells.
We are currently locked into a continuous cycle where a vaccine is developed against the newest variant, which then mutates and requires…yes, developing another vaccine. It’s how we already manage the perennial flu threat, bringing the battle against influenza to a stalemate with no clear victory in sight, as the disease still claims thousands of lives each year.
COVID respects nobody
It’s easy to say, “Protect the vulnerable – everyone else will manage.” But the virus behind COVID doesn’t care whether you are a young sportsperson, senior citizen or even a medical doctor – or indeed, whether you are only mildly symptomatic – because COVID quietly damages our lungs, hearts, brains and other vital organs in ways that will bring unexpected trouble years later.
What’s the answer? An antiviral cocktail that stops all current and future COVID variants
To escape the ‘vaccine treadmill’ described earlier, we need a combination of multiple antiviral drugs that together prevent the virus from ever gaining a foothold in our bodies. Stop the virus from replicating in our bodies, and the virus cannot further mutate and sustain itself.
OK, there is an anti-coronavirus drug on the market, Paxlovid (Pfizer). But it has known side effects and is simply based on repurposing a drug candidate under development since 2002 for another related virus. Many experts now suggest that COVID may already be mutating its way around it.
So, what about that ideal ‘blocker’ cocktail of drugs to keep out COVID and prevent damage to our organs and accelerated age-related decline?
It’s the same approach medical science eventually used to fight HIV, turning it from a global killer into a lifestyle disease. A cocktail of three or four antiviral drugs targets HIV at the same time, leaving the virus unable to mutate away from the simultaneous effect of the blockers and spread. Sufferers are then able to lead a largely normal life.
So, who can deliver this COVID KO pill? ‘Big Pharma’ companies like Pfizer and Merck?
Probably not, and here’s why. The pharma industry’s 100-year-old trial and error method is not working; the industry knows it and has tried to find the answer for decades. Meanwhile, the number of medicines that are not small improvements on existing ones and feature genuinely novel chemical structures continues to plummet along with returns on R&D investments.
Big Pharma has a relatively small number of drug compounds to work with: one of the larger players may hold a little over two million, while the industry globally probably tests around seven to ten million.
Sounds a lot?
Not really. The number of potential drug molecules is actually a billion trillion trillion, so the industry is constantly ‘fishing’ for answers in a muddy roadside puddle, when it could be exploring an ocean of new drug molecules able to revolutionise drug discovery and healthcare.
To add further context, of the 10,000 plus known human diseases, the established trial-and-error model can barely tackle 500, and many current drugs have nasty side effects that create secondary problems because drug companies continue to limit themselves to fishing that small puddle.
What the pharmaceutical industry needs is a technological breakthrough on the scale of developing solid-state transistors, which paved the path from the 275-ton, half-acre AN/FSQ-7 vacuum-tube computer to our current iPhones that have at least 100,000,000 times more processing power.
So why not throw brute-force computer power at the problem? Hasn’t all that processing power allowed us to model the necessary molecular physics and build sophisticated AI tools?
But modelling the required quantum-physics interactions between molecules becomes intractably complex very quickly, bogging down even the most powerful computers.
And while there’s been a lot of buzz and hype that AI will solve the drug discovery problem, it can’t unless we have either data from experiments or accurate predictions from the above-referenced physics-based models. Current AI only predicts things like the data it already has from the overfished muddy puddle; it can’t fish the deep ocean of drug-like molecules.
Fortunately, Verseon has spent 20 years and has been recognised for building the core fundamental science, so that it can indeed fish the ocean and tackle those 10,000 human diseases rather than being limited to the 500, and at a fraction of the cost of current drug development methods.
The Silicon Valley company – neighbour to the likes of Tesla, Apple, Google and other tech giants – has been able to create 16 drug candidates within its eight drug programmes to tackle major killers including cancer and heart disease, and has done so 50 times faster than anyone else because of this platform.
“We went and learned how to navigate the ocean, not fish in the puddle,” says Verseon CEO and Co-founder Adityo Prakash.
These new drug candidates can also be fast-tracked and readied for testing and clinical trials, changing the entire paradigm of drug discovery.
How does it work? Verseon’s physics simulations using its unique pioneering drug discovery platform, can find amazing islands of data that support new drug compounds and show exactly which molecules are relevant for a given disease-associated protein, thereby offering completely new drugs, not possible before, at a fraction of the cost using old methods, yet faster and less reliant on trial and error.
Verseon CEO and Co-founder Adityo Prakash recalls how: “We contacted notable R&D leaders in the industry who had worked at places like Abbott and Pfizer. We gave them access to test our platform, and they were surprised at how well it performed.”
Expert validation from…
“Verseon’s disruptive platform changes how drugs can be discovered and developed, and the company is poised to make a dramatic impact on modern medicine” – former Pfizer SVP of R&D Strategy Robert Karr
“Verseon’s platelet-sparing anticoagulants…represent an exciting ‘precision medicine’ opportunity for the treatment of a large population of cardiovascular disease patients” – John Deanfield, University College London’s Professor of Cardiology, one of the world’s leading cardiologists.
“Verseon’s platform comprises significant new advances within multiple distinct branches of science. Any one of these advances would be enthusiastically welcomed by leading practitioners in their respective domains but collecting them together is virtually unattainable by any other organization. It is by far the most advanced ab initio drug design methodology currently in existence” – Sangtae Kim, Verseon Chief Technical Officer, a former CEO at the influential Morgridge Institute biomedical unit, and VP at major pharma company, Eli Lilly.
But that’s not all that can come from enhanced collection and collation of data, plus Verseon’s pioneering platform…
Prevention and early intervention lead to better health and longevity
Healthcare is not totally focused on improving our lifespan or slowing the ageing process, yet current scientific evidence suggests all nine core hallmarks of ageing can be slowed by active ingredients more powerful than any pharmaceutical drug.
But these new supplements must be customised to the individual and the benefits monitored regularly, as everyone’s genes are different – just ‘popping vitamins’ isn’t enough.
Having the right data is crucial to enable customisation of these ‘nutraceuticals’, which can also strengthen our immune systems against the hidden effects of COVID and future health threats, while mitigating the ageing process.814