A new artificial intelligence tool named EVEscape, developed by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the University of Oxford, can make predictions about new viral variants before they actually emerge.
The tool has two elements: A model of evolutionary sequences that predicts changes that can occur to a virus, and detailed biological and structural information about the virus. Together, they allow EVEscape to make predictions about the variants most likely to occur as the virus evolves.
In a study published Oct. 11 in Nature, the researchers show that had it been deployed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, EVEscape would have predicted the most frequent mutations and identified the most concerning variants for SARS-CoV-2. The tool also made accurate predictions about other viruses, including HIV and influenza.
The researchers are now using EVEscape to look ahead at SARS-CoV-2 and predict future variants of concern; every two weeks, they release a ranking of new variants. Eventually, this information could help scientists develop more effective vaccines and therapies. The team is also broadening the work to include more viruses.