A drug developed at University of Alabama’s (UAB) Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C) is now being used to treat certain coronavirus patients in China. The drug, known as Remdesivir (Gilead), is the result of a five-year, $37.5 million “U19” grant to study and develop treatment for emerging infections like coronaviruses that can trigger SARS, MERS and now the COVID-19—the latest strain that triggered an outbreak in China. The virus is now spreading around the globe.
The U19 grant originated from the National institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Center of Excellence for Translational Research to study and development treatment for high-priority emerging infections. The grant supports an intense research effort led by the “Crimson Tide”-based investigative team to uncover drugs for emerging influenza, flaviviruses, (dengue, West Nile virus and Zika), coronaviruses that trigger SARS and MERS, and alphaviruses, such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus and chikungunya. The grant supports multi-institutional collaboration to accelerate drug discovery for these emerging infections and represents a public-private partnership between the academic institutions and biotech company Gilead Sciences.
Remdesivir was developed to treat the coronavirus causing MERS and found to be have significant activity against the 2019-nCoV strain when the outbreak commenced in Wuhan, China, reports Savannah Koplon writing for UAB News. A preclinical status vaccine, remdesivir demonstrated efficacy against coronaviruses MERS and SARS in cell culture and animal models, reported Ms. Koplon. Physicians in the U.S. generated compassionate plea requests and thereafter Gilead released the drug for use in a selection of patients. Again, the drug has not been through clinical trials as of yet, so it hasn’t been tested for efficacy in human beings.
Principal Investigator Lead
Professor Richard Whitley, MD, Distinguished Professor at UAB and the principal investigator of the U19 grant noted in February, “The release of remdesivir for safety and efficacy studies is a major accomplishment for the AD3C—namely the U19 grant—as it shows significant and swift advance of antiviral drugs to help treat and respond to emerging infectious disease outbreaks on an international scale and importantly, to anticipate the introduction of these infections in the United States.”
UAB Expert Panel on 2019 Coronavirus
For more information about remdesivir and how it can potentially be applied to the coronavirus, watch the Director of Infectious Diseases, Jeanne Marrazzo, MD at UAB and others discuss the research effort.
The grant involves an intensive collaboration between UAB and colleagues at Southern Ranch, Vanderbilt University and the University of North Carolina along with Gilead. Responsive, dynamic and working in real time, this team has leveraged public funds (NIH) and contributed to the necessary response to outbreaks, such as what is occurring with 2019-nCoV. Effective research is a collaborative, team-based endeavor and, thus far, this team exhibits a positive and progressive, not to mention seemingly effective model for public-private research models.
Although UAB is the lead institution for AD3C, the team involves experts in their respective fields across virology, viral immunology, pathogenesis, medicinal chemistry and translation to human disease from not only UAB but importantly a network of prominent research centers from University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, Washington University, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Southern Research, the Emory Institute of Drug Discovery, the University of Colorado, Denver and Oregon Health & Science University.
Professor Richard Whitley, MD, Distinguished Professor at UAB