The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, announced last week that it was awarding about $577 million to establish nine Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern. A major goal of the centers, all of which are located at leading academic health centers and research institutions, is to develop drugs that can fight off the next pandemic.
According to the NIAID announcement, the AViDD centers will conduct multidisciplinary research to develop promising COVID-19 antivirals, especially those that can be taken by patients in an outpatient setting, as well as other antivirals targeting specific viral families with a high potential to cause a pandemic in the future.
The targets include paramyxoviruses, bunyaviruses, togaviruses, filoviruses (including Ebola viruses and Marburg virus), picornaviruses (including enteroviruses and other cold-causing viruses), and flaviviruses (including the viruses that cause yellow fever, dengue and Zika).
The awards are a part of a multi-agency Antiviral Program for Pandemics (APP), an intensive research program designed to speed development of therapeutics for COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new antiviral drugs, especially those that could easily be taken by patients at home while their symptoms are still mild, ” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., in the news release. “Decades of prior research on the structure and vulnerabilities of coronaviruses greatly accelerated our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope that similar research focused on antivirals will better prepare us for the next pandemic.”
The AViDD centers will focus on early-stage identification and validation of novel viral targets, specifically attempting to find small molecules and biotherapeutics that directly block viral targets. As potential new drugs are discovered and evaluated for their potency and breadth, the most promising ones will go into late-stage preclinical development.
The centers will collaborate with industry partners to accelerate basic research and discovery, taking advantage of the companies’ chemical libraries and their expertise in translating promising drug candidates into clinical product development.
The AViDD award recipients, all of which have multiple collaborators at other academic health centers or research institutions, are:
Center for Antiviral Medicines & Pandemic Preparedness at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California (Award: $67 million).
UTMB-Novartis Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston (Award: $56 million).
Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative – AViDD Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Award: $65 million).
Development of Outpatient Antiviral Cocktails against SARS-CoV-2 and other Potential Pandemic RNA Viruses at the Stanford University School of Medicine (Award: $69 million).
Antiviral Countermeasures Development Center at Emory University and Georgia State University (Award: $52 million).
Metropolitan AntiViral Drug Accelerator at Hackensack University Medical Center (Award: $65.1 million).
QBI Coronavirus Research Group Pandemic Response Program at the University of California, San Francisco (Award: $ 67.5 million).
Midwest AViDD Center at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (Award: $66 million).
AI-Driven Structure-Enabled Antiviral Platform at Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, PostEra and Sloan Kettering Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City (Award: $68 million).
All the new awards are 3-year grants with the opportunity for extensions for up to two more years, depending on the availability of funding, the submission of required progress reports and the assessment of progress.