Network Medicine Framework for Identifying Drug Repurposing Opportunities for COVID-19

Deisy Morselli Gysi, Ítalo Do Valle, Marinka Zitnik, Asher Ameli, Xiao Gan, Onur Varol, Susan Dina Ghiassian, JJ Patten, Robert Davey, Joseph Loscalzo, Albert-László Barabási
August 9, 2020


The current pandemic has highlighted the need for methodologies that can quickly and reliably prioritize clinically approved compounds for their potential effectiveness for SARS-CoV-2 infections. In the past decade, network medicine has developed and validated multiple predictive algorithms for drug repurposing, exploiting the sub-cellular network-based relationship between a drug's targets and disease genes. Here, we deployed algorithms relying on artificial intelligence, network diffusion, and network proximity, tasking each of them to rank 6,340 drugs for their expected efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. To test the predictions, we used as ground truth 918 drugs that had been experimentally screened in VeroE6 cells, and the list of drugs under clinical trial, that capture the medical community's assessment of drugs with potential COVID-19 efficacy. We find that while most algorithms offer predictive power for these ground truth data, no single method offers consistently reliable outcomes across all datasets and metrics. This prompted us to develop a multimodal approach that fuses the predictions of all algorithms, showing that a consensus among the different predictive methods consistently exceeds the performance of the best individual pipelines. We find that 76 of the 77 drugs that successfully reduced viral infection do not bind the proteins targeted by SARS-CoV-2, indicating that these drugs rely on network-based actions that cannot be identified using docking-based strategies. These advances offer a methodological pathway to identify repurposable drugs for future pathogens and neglected diseases underserved by the costs and extended timeline of de novo drug development.

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