Researchers David Baker, Demis Hassabis and John Jumper have received the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Biology and Biomedicine category for revolutionizing the study and design of proteins through artificial intelligence, thereby advancing the development of new treatments for multiple diseases . The winners have developed deep learning systems that make it possible to predict the three-dimensional structure of proteins with unprecedented precision and speed, in minutes, which previously required years of experimental work in the laboratory. “This significant advance revolutionizes the understanding of how the amino acid sequence of proteins leads to uniquely ordered three-dimensional structures,” concludes the jury report published by the foundation. He adds: “Scientists are now using these new methods to predict interactions between proteins, design entirely new proteins, and find new drug targets.”
The award-winning tools are AlphaFold2, led by Hassabis and Jumper (CEO and Senior Researcher, respectively, of artificial intelligence company DeepMind) and RoseTTAFold, led by Baker (Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Washington and Howard Hughes Research Fellow Medical Institute). ). Both have made it possible to reveal the structure of almost all documented proteins, both human, animal, plant and bacterial, which serves to speed up the development of new drugs and vaccines.
“AlphaFold has made a huge impact on biological research in a very short period of time,” says researcher Demis Hassabis. “We know that more than a million researchers have used AlphaFold’s predicted structures in their research and virtually every pharmaceutical company in the world has used AlphaFold in their drug discovery programs,” added Deepmind’s CEO.
“It’s very difficult to deal with the extraordinary complexity that’s observed in a living cell, but I really think that with this technology we’re able to capture that complexity,” Jumper admitted in an interview shortly after he had learned of the jury’s decision. “Novel proteins can lead to improved medicines, so there are many exciting new medical applications. For example, it will be possible to develop new vaccines or new drugs to treat cancer,” adds Baker.
In the previous edition, the honorees were Robert Langer, Katalin Karikó and Drew Weissman for their contributions to messenger RNA therapies and transfer technologies that enable cells to produce proteins to prevent and treat disease. These discoveries facilitated the development of vaccines against Covid-19.
The prizes, which have already been awarded fifteen times, are endowed with 400,000 euros. They were established in 2008 by the BBVA Foundation to recognize high-impact contributions across diverse fields of science, technology, humanities and music, particularly those that significantly expand the scope of what is known in a discipline and create new disciplines or build bridges between different disciplines . In addition, they have international juries made up of renowned experts in the respective fields.
The Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC) also participates in these awards with the BBVA Foundation. The state agency is responsible for appointing part of the members of the technical assistance committees, who will be the first to evaluate the candidatures, in order to later forward the finalists’ proposal to the jury. The public body also appoints the chair of each jury and participates in the election of the other members.
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