"Having effective drugs against the coronavirus is essential to reduce the severity and mortality of the disease," explains Javier Martínez de Salazar, leader of the Biophym group. "The protein selected as a target plays a central role in the replication and transcription of the genetic material of the virus; If it is neutralized, it can slow down the spread of the virus in the body and aid in healing, "he adds. However, he warns, "looking for a compound capable of neutralizing a specific protein is like testing a huge number of keys to open a lock and, when this process is simulated by computer means, it requires great computing power." "Like a key in a lock, the effectiveness of a drug depends on how well its structure adapts to that of the area where the protein develops its activity," he adds. "There are physics-chemistry-based models that can predict the efficacy of compounds using computational techniques - called in silico - before they are tested in clinical trials. But these models involve performing hundreds of thousands of calculations to measure the strength of the interaction of each of the possible associations between the drug and the protein, "says Javier Ramos Díaz, one of the group's researchers. The project will have the support of the thousands of personal computers that are part of Ibercivis' distributed computing platform ('Ibercivis BOINC'), to which anyone who wants to collaborate can join. The operations will be divided into small packages that will be sent to each device. In this way, a computing capacity similar to that of a supercomputer will be achieved and all project activities can be carried out. Volunteers only need to download the BOINC program, an open source application developed by the University of Berkeley, and join ‘Ibercivis BOINC’ at the time of installation. By doing so, they will be able to easily choose when and how to participate. For example, whoever does not want the computational capacity of their computer to be affected while using it, just leave the default configuration so that the program runs only during pause times, when the screen saver jumps.
Finding a drug used in the treatment of other viral diseases that works against coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the purpose of the COVID-PHYM citizen science project, promoted by the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the Foundation Ibercivis. Since some drugs in use have already been shown to be safe enough for human health, they may be available to treat patients with COVID-19 much sooner than a newly created compound and thus accelerate control of the pandemic. Under this premise, the Biophym Group of the Institute of Matter Structure of the CSIC has proposed to perform simulations of the interaction of drugs used against Ebola, HIV infection, influenza or hepatitis B with the replication machinery of the genome of the SARS-Co-V virus. To do this, it will resort to computer techniques and the help of the computers of thousands of volunteers connected through Ibercivis' distributed computing platform. These operations will show if any of the molecules manages to inhibit a key protein in the multiplication of the virus called 'RNA-dependent RNA polymerase'. If so, the drug would become an ideal candidate for testing in human clinical trials.
How to participate
Download and install BOINC from https://boinc.berkeley.edu/. Following the installation steps is easy. From the BOINC application installed on your device, join the ‘Ibercivis BOINC’ project. Once you have installed the application, run it from your device Click on 'Add project', and enter the following url at https://boinc.ibercivis.es in the 'Project URL' section and click on 'Next'. From there your device will begin to participate, along with several thousand more, in the experiment.
Only a personal computer is needed to join the project.