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Happy Tuesday, readers.
We’ve known for a while now that there’s a serious dearth of new antibiotics—a frightening prospect given the increasing number of Americans being sickened by so-called “superbugs” that can ward off the most powerful available treatments.
But what if artificial intelligence and deep learning can help identify the most promising new antibiotic candidates?
That’s what a team of researchers at MIT is testing out—and they report in a recent paper that their algorithm was successfully able to identify a new antibiotic that they’ve named halicin (a cheeky reference to the infamous computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey).
Regina Barzilay, a professor of computer science at MIT and one of the study’s senior authors, walked me through how, exactly such a process works.
“Think about how you’re using Amazon,” she said. “They know what you bought and what you didn’t, so they’re able to give you a more limited but curated list of recommendations.”
Similarly, chemists can train a machine learning algorithm to look for specific characteristics in a new compound.
“A chemist knows there’s a certain combination of atoms more likely to kill a bug because that’s what their experience has been,” explained Barzilay. “Machines can try to identify the combination between the molecular structure and how a combination of things can kill certain bacteria.”
Much more on our conversation here.
Read on for the day’s news.
Verizon and Emory Healthcare partner on 5G lab. Emory Healthcare has struck a partnership with Verizon in order to create a health care innovation lab powered by 5G. The idea here is to leverage the high-speed, high-bandwidth capabilities of 5G in order to test out all sorts of advanced medical technologies. "With 5G, doctors should be able to do things like create holographic 3D anatomical renderings that can be studied from every angle and even projected onto the body in the OR to help guide surgery," said Verizon Business Group CEO Tami Erwin in a statement.
Novartis to review safety issues in its eye drug blockbuster hopeful. Swiss drug giant Novartis is reviewing potential safety issues linked to its eye drug Beovu following red flags issued by the American Society of Retinal Specialists. Novartis stock tumbled nearly 3% on Monday following the news. Why are investors concerned? Beovu, which treats the eye condition macular degeneration, was thought to be a successor to Novartis' blockbuster treatment Lucentis. Novartis said it stood by the safety and efficacy of the drug. (New York Times)
U.S. pledges $1 billion for coronavirus vaccine. As the number of coronavirus cases in South Korea and other countries outside China spikes, the U.S. government has pledged $2.5 billion to help fight the pathogen (with $1 billion set aside for developing a vaccine). The World Health Organization (WHO) is warning countries around the globe to prepare for new cases and to prepare containment efforts accordingly. (Reuters)
THE BIG PICTURE
Defining a pandemic. Speaking of the WHO—what makes something a "pandemic" rather than a medical "emergency?" My colleague Eamon Barrett reported on the somewhat confusing terminology being used by the global health agency. "[I]nstead of sticking to a strict vocabulary to define the outbreak, WHO is sending mixed signals: spokespeople say the agency no longer uses a 'pandemic' designation, while its leaders publicly speculate whether the outbreak has met 'pandemic' criteria yet," Eamon points out in his explainer. (Fortune)
Here were last year's most overpaid CEOs, by Chris Morris
They negotiated the Paris agreement—now they're asking businesses to step up, by Katherine Dunn
5 reasons coronavirus statistics seem inconsistent, by Erik Sherman
Are smart cities a dumb idea?, by Clay Chandler