November 11, 2021

RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has announced the winner of its Forethought Research Collaboration Challenge: a group of researchers working to combat the next pandemic. The winning team, led by experts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, will receive $5 million in seed funding to produce antiviral drugs for the future.

Dr. Ralph Baric

Dr. Ralph Baric

The work is already underway by the Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative, a collaboration co-founded by William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor of epidemiology Ralph S. Baric, PhD, at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and researchers at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy and School of Medicine, including Mark Heise, PhD, and Nat Moorman, PhD, who led the winning team. The team represents UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and RTI.

“From the beginning, this challenge was meant to create new partnerships between our top-tier research institutions and stimulate investment and growth in the Research Triangle region,” according to Christy Shaffer, PhD, chair of the University Research Collaboration Committee and member of the RTI Board of Governors, and Peter Lange, PhD, vice chair of the URCC. “This proposal can achieve those aims and more, including having a potential global impact, which is why it stood out to the committee.”

Forethought, launched earlier this year, sought bold, visionary proposals that would address critical societal issues, specifically in the Research Triangle region.

“Support from the RTI Forethought Challenge will let READDI expand existing partnerships and forge new ones that leverage the cutting-edge capabilities of the Triangle to develop the drugs we need to be ready for future pandemics,” said Moorman.

To prevent the next pandemic, scientists seek broad-spectrum antiviral medicines that can block many viruses at once. These new drugs could prevent surges on health care systems and help maintain economic stability.

The URCC, formed by RTI’s Board of Governors to oversee the challenge, heard presentations from finalists last week before selecting the winner.

“I am truly excited to see how this group uses the RTI seed funding to bolster what could be a transformational project,” said Jacqueline M. Olich, PhD, vice president of university collaborations at RTI. “The quality and quantity of proposals we received during this challenge was a reminder of why the Research Triangle region has been a model of world-class research for more than 60 years. We want to sincerely thank all the teams that submitted applications.”

The challenge received 136 initial applications, with eight teams advancing to submit full proposals and five finalists advancing to give presentations to URCC.

“UNC-Chapel Hill led the Triangle in participation in this competition and we had stellar teams involved,” said Don Hobart, associate vice chancellor for research at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Of the eight teams selected to submit full proposals, five were from UNC.”

In addition to the READDI proposal, the UNC finalists submitting full proposals were:

  • Arcot Rajasekar and Sarav Arunachalam (UNC-Chapel Hill): Triangle Exposomics Hub
  • Michael Daniele and UNC Institute for Convergent Science (NC State-UNC-Chapel Hill): NC-VVIRAL: An Academic-Industrial Partnership in the Research Triangle to Forge the Next-Generation Biomanufacturing of Gene Therapy Products
  • Theo Dingemans (UNC-Chapel Hill): Innovative Materials for Water Center. The team included faculty members in the UNC Gillings Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering Jill Stewart, PhD, Orlando Coronell, PhD, and Okun Distinguished Professor Cass Miller, PhD.
  • Eric Ghysels (UNC-Chapel Hill): Quantum Future for the Triangle.


Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI) is a nonprofit drug research and development organization that was founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the UNC School of Medicine, Gillings School of Global Public Health, Eshelman School of Pharmacy and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation. READDI employs the expertise of partners across the globe to transform the drug discovery process and create antiviral drug solutions for the future.

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