Comprehensive assessment of antiviral landscapes guides research and development
November 20, 2023
As the death toll rises in the wake of the emergence of the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, drug developers around the world have delved into the scientific record.
It asked questions such as: Which academic laboratories ended their drug discovery programs after the first SARS outbreak in 2003? Which companies abandoned drug development work after the outbreak of the Corona virus in 2012?
After years of neglect, the world has descended once again into a state of panic in response to the pandemic.
Rapidly emerging antiviral drug development initiative (ready,) exists to disrupt the panic-neglect cycle once and for all by creating drugs that will be ready to slow viral illness, hospitalization, and death before the next outbreak.
The UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health has received a $65 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to establish a Center for Antiviral Drug Discovery (AVIDD) through READDI, in order to develop antivirals. Oral viruses that can combat pandemic-level viruses such as COVID-19.
To this end, one of the founding steps of READDI was to create a comprehensive assessment of all antiviral drug development work— Both active and abandoned – targeting virus families most at risk from a pandemic.
This is the first achievement of its kind, which was achieved through cooperation with Sevida — a life sciences management consulting firm headquartered in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina — is positioning READDI at the forefront of antiviral therapeutic development for pandemic preparedness, says Jamie Rosen, READDI’s CEO.
“Assessing the landscape is an essential early step. “Our goal is to create two broad-spectrum small-molecule antivirals for each high-risk virus family,” says Rosen. “Surveying the current landscape of antiviral action informs and accelerates our ability to reach this goal.” “
“Great team, great cause”
To implement the landscape assessment, READDI found the perfect partner in SciVida, a purpose-driven company that donates five percent of its annual profits to patient-focused charities.
When the leadership of the two companies met for the first time, the COVID-19 crisis loomed large. SciVida co-founder and managing partner Kevin Barnett offered to develop the landscape assessment database for free and as quickly as possible.
“Our goal as an organization is to help bring science to life so patients can access life-saving treatments and our world becomes a healthier place,” Barnett says. “The pandemic has clearly highlighted the need for READDI and its mission. We were completely on board. I said, ‘Great team, great cause – we’d love to help.’”
Rosen and READDI co-founder and scientific advisor Dr. Nat Moorman worked with Barnett and his team to define the scope of the database. Because READDI develops antivirals that work broadly against entire virus families, the company wanted a database focused on the most dangerous virus families: alphaviruses, arenaviruses, bunyaviruses, coronaviruses, filoviruses, flaviviruses, and paramyxoviruses.
The database should be comprehensive, that is, evaluating small molecule antiviral development programs led by biopharmaceutical stakeholders, as well as discovery work conducted in academia. Since virus outbreaks do not respect international borders, the database should include research and development (R&D) conducted around the world.
It was a daunting challenge. The data landscape for antiviral drug development is broad.
“None of this information was neatly located in one place, so we took a boil-the-ocean approach,” Barnett says.
The SciVida team relied on a number of proprietary databases, including those focused on commercial pipeline information, as well as others focused on early-stage academic R&D.
They searched more than 36 million citations in PubMed to the biomedical literature from MEDLINE, life sciences journals and online publications. They conducted a systematic online search to identify the most relevant universities and government-funded laboratories conducting research and development on priority virus families.
After completion, the data was entered into an easy-to-use database.
The final product, the “Small Molecule Antiviral Database,” includes several data points: the name of each antiviral compound, potential indications, drug class, mechanism of action and current stage of development across the United States, Europe, Japan and China.
Importantly, the database also includes abandoned assets from the past 10 years. Much of the detailed data is proprietary, but even the summary results have telling implications.
For example, “We use the database to identify virus families that have been completely neglected,” Rosen says. This is one of the first things you see when you pull it up. This is a discovery that we will share with everyone.”
On the other hand, the evaluation reveals how much effort has been put into developing treatments targeting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, some of which are interesting, but largely of low value.
“If you’re not in the panic phase, you can be more methodical and efficient in your research,” Rosen says.
“It is unclear from this database whether these compounds have been tested for broad-spectrum activity,” Moorman says. “If we test the compounds in this database against a range of viruses in each target family, this could provide an important head start in preparing for the next pandemic.”
READDI is currently developing more than 20 compounds that show broad-spectrum efficacy against five high-risk virus families.
“Mapping the pipeline of antivirals against high-risk viral families is essential to improve pandemic preparedness,” says Charlotte Baker, deputy head of the International Epidemic Preparedness Secretariat, based in London.
IPPS is leading the 100-day mission, a plan endorsed by G7 and G20 countries to provide diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines within 100 days of the outbreak. READDI, a key implementation partner of the 100 Day Mission, is helping to develop a treatment roadmap to guide next steps.
“[The READDI landscape assessment]helps target efforts, avoids duplication, and gets us to a place where modular therapeutic model libraries are a realistic proposition,” Baker says. “It also provides a space to learn about which products are being launched and which ones are not.”
“Partnership is key to progress in this area, and it is great to be working with READDI in developing the 100 Day Cure Mission roadmap, leveraging the insights of the team, alongside other key partners, to develop a framework.”
SciVida’s Barnett agrees.
“Having READDI as a leader collaborating with key stakeholders around the world to make sure we are prepared when the next pandemic hits — and it will, even if we don’t know when — is incredibly important for our community, for our country, and for us.” “People all over the world,” Barnett says. “We were thrilled to have the opportunity to support READDI.”
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.