U awarded $66 million to study drug treatments for future pandemics


A team centered at the University of Minnesota has been awarded $66 million over three years to create new antiviral drugs that could lessen the impact of the next pandemic, and possibly still play a role against COVID-19.

The antiviral Paxlovid was found to be effective against COVID-19, but it only arrived a year after the current pandemic began. The goal of the U-led Midwest Antiviral Drug Discovery Center is to develop an “arsenal of compounds” that could be ready immediately and inhibit any virus emerging in the next pandemic, said Reuben Harris, co-chief of the Research Team.

“History says there have been pandemics and there will be others, unfortunately,” he said. “History also tells us a lot about which viruses are capable of this. We know from all sorts of scientific efforts that there are different families of viruses which are uniquely capable of causing pandemics.”

The team led by U is among nine nationwide which received $577 million in federal funding to improve pandemic preparedness. All nine will develop compounds against coronaviruses, but U researchers will explore therapies against flaviviruses, such as mosquito-borne Zika and West Nile viruses, and against filoviruses, such as Ebola. Arenaviruses will also be targeted by research led by U.

As the viruses in these families constantly mutate, the goal is to target their most stable components so that drugs have a better chance of combating them in the future. The research will also draw on success in the world of HIV treatment – the development of a combination of drugs that work together even if the virus becomes resistant to a single treatment.

“The end game here too is to have multiple drugs that target different essential viral processes and ultimately stop [the virus]which locks him into a corner from which he cannot evolve,” Harris said.

Minnesota has received nearly 40,000 courses of Paxlovid in the past six months and used more than 13,000 to prevent people in the early stages of coronavirus infections from suffering serious illnesses related to COVID-19 or having need for hospitalizations. The state also received nearly 30,000 courses of a less effective COVID-19 antiviral called molnupiravir.

Harris said there is evidence that Paxlovid could work against other coronaviruses in the future, but there is also a risk that the viruses will become resistant to solitary treatment. If that happens, U-search could also become important against the current pandemic.

“The virus will likely evolve to resist Paxlovid and other lead compounds until we reach a point where we can apply multiple drugs simultaneously,” he said.

Harris is also chair of biochemistry and structural biology at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio, which is one of 16 institutions that are part of the antiviral discovery team led by U The other co-leader is Fang Li, professor of structural disease biology and director of the U Center for Coronavirus Research. The grantmaking effort could span five years and include an additional $40 million.

The funding, among other things, will accelerate existing U research with compounds and chemicals that have shown virus-inhibiting potential. The funding covers the development of compounds and the initial research they work on, in which case pharmaceutical companies and venture capitalists would pick up the slack and organize clinical trials to prove whether they are safe and effective enough for approval. drug administration.


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