Alibaba Cloud powers research organization’s free AI COVID-19 virtual screening

Powered by Alibaba Cloud, the digital technology and intelligence backbone of Alibaba Group, the Global Health Drug Discovery Institute (GHDDI) launched a Free AI Virtual Screening Service for COVID-19 in order to facilitate COVID-19 drug discovery effort globally.

The free and web-based research engine provides researchers with an AI-powered tool for virtual screening computation, which is powerful enough to support the prediction of SARS-CoV2 relevant target binding and phenotypic properties of any queried compound with just one click. Alibaba Cloud’s high-performance computing (HPC) resources and GHDDI’s artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities accelerate the computation process exponentially.

GHDDI is an independent and not-for-profit research organization jointly founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Tsinghua University, and the Beijing Municipal Government in 2016 through an innovative Public-Private Partnership (PPP).

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GHDDI’s drug repurposing research has put the Institute at the forefront in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the launch of the GHDDI COVID-19 information sharing portal hosted on Alibaba Cloud in January 2020, GHDDI has received 130 research applications worldwide.

It also partnered with 10 research institutions to investigate 9255 antiviral substances, 256 anti-coronavirus active small molecules, and biological agents, and 18 high potential drug candidates recommended by AI through data mining from historical records.

Computing power

“The high-performance computing power provided by Alibaba Cloud has significantly enhanced our drug discovery process by speeding up molecular docking and deep learning computations, which may shorten the time needed to find a cure,” said Dr. Lurong Pan, Senior Investigator, AI platform lead of GHDDI. “As we are racing against time to tackle one of the worst public health crises in human history, leveraging AI and cloud computing in the research process gives us a better chance to save more lives.”

Wet lab experiments were soon followed using AI shortlisted high potential compounds, and compounds with significant inhibitory effects on SARS-CoV2 in vitro were constantly being discovered by researchers. The portal also provides a real-time statistical analysis of COVID-19 global research progress, with daily automatic updates, powered by a natural language processing AI engine.


This AI engine can generate a report that covers over 1,000 current worldwide clinical trials of 840 small molecule drugs, 306 biologics, and 84 vaccines (as of July 25, 2020) against COVID-19 and hundreds of anti-SARS-CoV2 active compounds from in vitro experiments by research groups from all over the world.

Supercomputers have tens of thousands of processors that work together to perform large scale computations, which normally would take decades if done manually. Powered by the 7th Generation of Elastic Compute Service (ECS), Alibaba Cloud’s HPC is highly scalable and elastic, and can be deployed over the cloud quickly without any infrastructure investment.

“We believe technology companies and research institutions should work hand in hand in order to tackle the pandemic,” said Dr. He Wanqing, director of Alibaba Cloud HPC, Alibaba Cloud Intelligence. “Global research institutions such as GHDDI are crucial to finding long-term solutions in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and Alibaba Cloud is committed to offering our leading technology such as HPC resources free of charge to support the good cause.”