May 20, 2022

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health a $65 million grant establishing an Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Center to develop oral antivirals that can combat pandemic-level viruses like COVID-19. The center builds upon and is tightly affiliated with UNC’s Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Institute (READDI).

The READDI-AViDD Center (READDI-AC), one of nine established by the NIH, is an integrated public-private partnership with a renowned, interdisciplinary research team of experts from the Gillings School, UNC School of Medicine and UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. They will apply cutting-edge technologies to develop oral therapies that target viral families with high potential to cause a pandemic in the future.

Dr. Ralph Baric

Dr. Ralph Baric

“Building on generous support and vision provided by the North Carolina legislature, the Governor’s office and UNC, we established a collaborative coalition of scientific leaders to develop antiviral drugs against pandemic virus threats of the 21st century,” stated Ralph Baric, PhD, program director and William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in epidemiology, microbiology and immunology. “To achieve these goals, our NIH sponsored READDI-AViDD Center is an international consortium that includes academic institutions, pharmaceutical companies and affiliated entities across five nations who work together to prevent life-threatening human coronavirus, flavivirus, alphavirus and filovirus infections.”

“At Carolina, we talk about practical applications of our research to improve society and the public good. Faced with the threat of COVID-19, our world-class scientists did not back down,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz. “Their continued pursuit of solutions saved lives, and this recent award recognizes the profound impact of that work. I’m grateful for this funding and the continued support of the N.C. General Assembly, which enables us to perform cutting-edge research and prepare for whatever might be next on the horizon.”

READDI was initially founded and supported through UNC’s Creativity Hubs initiative, the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, and grants from the N.C. Collaboratory, which funded the first five READDI projects. Recent funding from the N.C. General Assembly and support from several members of the N.C. Congressional delegation has been critical in aiding the team’s work. By drawing on expertise and technology from academic and industry partners, including Janssen Pharmaceuticals, Takeda, Chimerix Inc. and Pardes Biosciences, READDI-AC will aid in the discovery and development of broad-spectrum antivirals that reduce the risk of severe illness and death from these highly contagious viruses.

“Investment in antiviral drug discovery through open science is the best way to ensure that the world is prepared for the next pandemic,” said Tim Willson, PhD, co-director and professor at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. “READDI-AC will leverage open science to support the development of antiviral drugs that are affordable and available to all.”

“The devastating effects of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic illustrates the critical need for new antiviral treatments for both existing and future viral disease threats,” said Mark Heise, PhD, professor of genetics at the UNC School of Medicine and co-founder of READDI alongside Baric and Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology Nathaniel Moorman, PhD. “The READDI-AC Program is poised to significantly enhance our ability to treat existing threats while preparing for future viral disease outbreaks.”

The award is part of NIAD’s Antiviral Program for Pandemics (APP), an intensive research program designed to speed development of therapeutics for COVID-19.

The AViDD centers will conduct research on the early-stage identification and validation of novel viral targets, with an eye to identify small molecules and biotherapeutics that directly block viral targets. As drug candidates are identified and evaluated for properties such as potency and breadth, the most promising will enter late-stage preclinical development. Importantly, the centers can draw on the resources of their industry partners to accelerate research, making use of the companies’ chemical libraries and expertise in moving candidates into the product development pipeline.

The READDI-AC’s consortium of international collaborators also includes the University of Toronto, Diamond Light Source LTD, Sichting VU, Duke University, McGill University, Rutgers University, the University of Alberta, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, University College London, Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, Oregon Health and Science University, Janssen Pharmaceutica NV, the University of Colorado-Denver, and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Learn more about the nine AViDD centers established by the NIH.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of Allergy And Infectious Diseases of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U19AI171292. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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