Thanks to a $56 million grant, the University of Texas Medical Branch and global health care company Novartis will enhance their work together to discover drugs to fight off the next pandemic.
The grant comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and is one of nine such grants awarded by NIAID to establish Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern.
“We must prepare for the next pandemic by working together across governmental, non-governmental, academic and private sectors to develop an arsenal of countermeasures,” said Dr. Pei-Yong Shi, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and VP for Research Innovation at UTMB and one of the leaders of the partnership. “This project is built on an ongoing collaboration between Novartis and UTMB. Combining our world-leading virology research capabilities with the state-of-the art drug discovery technologies at Novartis, we have a real opportunity to discover safe and effective drugs against viruses with pandemic potential.”
The partnership, dubbed the UTMB-Novartis Alliance for Pandemic Preparedness (UNAPP), will focus on coronaviruses, flavivirus and henipavirus, three major classes of viruses with pandemic potential. SARS-CoV-2 is the now well-known coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. Falviviruses include Zika, West Nile, and yellow fever, among others. Henipaviruses include Nipah and Hendra virus, both highly virulent emerging pathogens with the potential to cause outbreaks in humans.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how important it is to be prepared,” said Dr. Charles Mouton, Executive Vice President, Provost and Dean of the John Sealy School of Medicine at UTMB. “Through his hard work and ability to both innovate and collaborate, Dr. Shi is making sure we are on the cutting edge of research and discovery so that when the next pandemic hits, we have the antiviral drugs necessary to respond.”
The partnership’s projects will include looking at well validated drug targets as well as phenotypic screening, which will allow for the discovery of clinical drug candidates as well as new targets that will advance the fundamental understanding of the biology of the viruses.