The deadliest cases of COVID-19 often arise in patients with a variety of pre-existing conditions, known to medicine as “comorbidity.” A Morgridge Institute for Research project will investigate those disease relationships in the search for new drug treatments.

Kalpana Raja

Morgridge investigator Ron Stewart, associate director of bioinformatics; and Kalpana Raja, postdoctoral research associate; have devised a literature-based discovery system called TripleMiner that could speed up the race to repurpose drugs to help in the battle against COVID-19. The duo received an award from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation’s new Accelerator Challenge devoted to novel COVID-19 ideas.

TripleMiner’s data frontier is the enormous PubMed database, which contains more than 30 million abstracts of published medical research articles dating back decades. By pairing searches for COVID-19 treatments, of which more than 40,000 articles have already been produced, with known related diseases, they hope to find a bounty of drug candidates worthy of deeper investigation and clinical trials.

“People with COVID-19 are frequently diagnosed with multiple comorbid diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension,” says Raja. “So, people are taking new drugs for COVID-19 along with the drugs they are already taking.”

“On one hand, it is possible that interactions will happen between the repurposed drug and the comorbid diseases that cause side effects and drug intolerance,” she adds. “On the other hand, we can find and repurpose drugs with comorbidity in mind, limiting the number of drugs needed.”

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