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 – will 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, and will receive €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 COVID-19 virus against molecules that are stored in current databases. Excalate4Cov is now 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. Another example of EU support is seen with the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) announcing on 24 March 2020 a call for proposals, requesting computing resources to contribute to the mitigation of the impact of COVID-19 pandemic.

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 COVID-19 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.”
Other European supercomputing initiatives have also offered their support during the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, the applications of the HPC Centre of Excellence for Computational Biomolecular Research ‘BioExcel’ can already be used for on-demand, large-scale virtual screening of potential medical compounds, such as small molecule drugs and antibodies. Despite the applicability depending on the specific case of pandemic cause, the access policy of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking foresees prioritised and immediate access to its supercomputers in case of emergency, as is the case in pandemic crises such as the one we currently face.

Factsheet on European Commission research actions on Coronavirus