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Using European supercomputing to treat the coronavirus

The European Commission has offered its support in the field of high-performance computing (HPC) in order to help find a treatment for the novel coronavirus.

picture of a row of servers

Three powerful European supercomputing centres – located in Bologna, Barcelona and Jülich – currently participate in the Exscalate4CoV project, along with a pharmaceutical company and several large biological and biochemical institutes. The project was launched after the Commission’s emergency call for expression of interest on 31 January 2020, receiving €3 million worth of funding for research on COVID-19 vaccine development, treatment and diagnostics. The project is part of the coordinated EU response, aiming to work on a concrete platform for finding a drug to be used against the novel coronavirus.

This EU funding has boosted the work done with supercomputers to research drug therapy against COVID-19, by complementing the classical trial and error clinical approach and possible experimentation in patients. This is achieved by comparing the protein of the coronavirus against molecules that are stored in current databases. Excalate4CoV is currently processing digital models of the coronavirus’ protein and matching them against a database of thousands of existing drugs, aiming to discover which combinations of active molecules could react to the virus. 

The EXSCALATE platform – one of the outcomes of the EU-funded project Antarex – is a fully operational project, coordinated by Dompé SpA, at the Italian supercomputing centre CINECA, analysing coronavirus proteins based on data available from the scientific community in order to accelerate the search of an effective therapy against the pandemic virus. In a recent interview, CINECA’s Carlo Cavazzoni said, “All the research teams working around these supercomputing centres – the researchers and the scientists – are sharing knowledge, working together, to ensure that we get the fastest possible good candidate drug for the coronavirus.”

The Commission is closely following the activities of Exscalate4CoV, and is providing support for partners in their aim to work with new collaborators. The Commission is also setting up a cooperation framework with the US Department of Energy, aiming to establish a team of EU-US researchers working together to share data, search for new remedies and model the spread of the coronavirus with the use of supercomputers.

Other EU-funded HPC projects are also strengthening research collaboration efforts with US partners: CompBioMed  cooperates  on advanced physics-based computational methods to study the effect of compounds on the coronavirus, and BioExcel has set up a common community data  repository for immediate access.

Beyond E4C, a broader effort in the field of HPC is also taking place. One example is with the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) announcing a call for proposals on 24 March, providing researchers with access to supercomputing resources and contributing to their coronavirus-related activities.

Factsheet on European Commission research on Coronavirus