Vancouver Prostate Centre closing in on finding made-in-BC COVID-19 treatment

Date Posted: 

Vancouver, B.C. (March 16, 2020): An Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform used to develop precision oncology drugs at the Vancouver Prostate Centre (VPC) has been repurposed to shave significant time off the process of finding a cure for COVID-19.

Researchers at the Centre are optimistic that their novel work will provide a list of potential treatment options within a matter of weeks, once they secure the funding needed to do more screening and testing.

By utilizing an existing AI-augmented technology called “deep docking”, Dr. Artem Cherkasov’s group at the Centre has quickly scanned 1.3 billion known chemical compounds and through a process of elimination, has arrived at a shortlist of the top 100 candidate protease inhibitors that could lead to a treatment. 

Dr. Martin Gleave, Executive Director of VPC says this narrowing-down process might have taken up to three years, had the AI process not been used. “Clearly the world is looking for a viable treatment for COVID-19 but this isn’t something that can happen overnight,” said Dr. Gleave. “By repurposing our AI platform to find a cure for coronavirus, we’ve successfully saved researchers a lot of time, when time is of the essence.”

The next step is to purchase samples of the top 100 candidates and screen them in collaboration with researchers at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Cherkasov estimates the list could potentially be further whittled down to the top one or two best options within eight weeks.

“We have just received federal grant funding from CIHR to partially screen some of the identified candidates, but further resources are needed to implement a full drug discovery pipeline,” says Dr. Cherkasov. “We hope to find additional funding through government/private/public partnerships as quickly as possible to accelerate the screening of promising drug candidates for this current threat.”

“This is an example of expertise crossing realms – from cancer to antiviral drug discovery. Vancouver Prostate Centre scientists are determined to contribute to the greater scientific community’s efforts to combat this global crisis” says Dr. Larry Goldenberg, Director of Development, VPC.

The VPC has also made public the list of the best candidates so they can be accessed by researchers worldwide looking for a COVID-19 treatment.

The Vancouver Prostate Centre is part of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, and the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine.

The VPC is a national Centre of Excellence, Canada’s most comprehensive and one of the world’s leading facilities for translational research, clinical treatment and supportive care of prostate cancer.

The Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (VCHRI) is the research body of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority and a world leader in translational health research. VCHRI is academically affiliated with UBC Faculty of Medicine and includes three of BC’s largest academic and teaching health sciences centres—Vancouver General Hospital, UBC Hospital, and GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre—as well as other hospitals and public health agencies across Vancouver Coastal Health.

Media contacts:

Pace Group
T 604.646.3567
C 778.386.0843
tpancoustatpacegroup [dot] com

Senior Communications Manager
Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute (for VPC)
T 604.875.4111 x22782
C 604.767.1230
vivian [dot] sumatvch [dot] ca


Media coverage:

Global News video:

CKNW radio interview:

The Star (featured at time stamp 12:15pm in their ongoing COVID-19 coverage):


A World Class Centre

The Vancouver Prostate Centre (VPC) has a track record of success that has earned it a reputation as one of the world’s most respected cancer facilities. It is a National Centre of Excellence and a designated Centre of Excellence for Commercialization and Research.


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