Even as the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be waning into a more manageable endemic, interest in preventing future viral outbreaks remains a high priority for public health, which is why the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announced earlier this month (May 18) it was sponsoring a major new antiviral drug development center to be led by La Jolla-based Scripps Research.
The NIH awarded the newly created Center for Antiviral Medicines and Pandemic Preparedness (CAMPP) $67 million in funding spread over three years, with potential renewal for two additional years. The CAMPP center at Scripps will be one of nine NIAID-sponsored Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern.
“The next global pandemic is a matter of ‘when’, not ‘if’, and with CAMPP we have a unique opportunity to prepare for that event,” said project co-lead investigator Sumit Chanda, Ph.D, professor in the Department of Immunology and Microbiology at Scripps Research.
The AViDD Centers program is one of the U.S. government’s responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and is aimed at the near-term development of drugs against viruses with high pandemic potential — including coronaviruses; filoviruses such as Ebola virus; flaviviruses such as yellow fever virus, dengue virus and Zika virus; paramyxoviruses; bunyaviruses and togaviruses.
Drug Discovery Expertise
In addition to research, Scripps’ drug development arm, Calibr, will play a pivotal role in the CAMPP program.
“Bringing together outstanding virology expertise with the drug discovery infrastructure of Calibr really enables the critical drug combination tools we need for this pandemic and future pandemic threats,” said co-lead Arnab Chatterjee, Ph.D, vice president of Medicinal Chemistry at Calibr.
The new center will leverage the global health drug discovery infrastructure and efforts that Calibr has built in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust.
Calibr had already made a major commitment to antivirals against coronaviruses with its drug repurposing efforts and its development of new antiviral agents that are advancing into clinical development.
The new Center’s efforts will include the discovery and development of next-generation drugs to combat coronaviruses and other viruses with pandemic potential by targeting known targets and exploring new paradigms.
Advancing new antivirals also come with financial benefits to the research institution. Scripps Research’s model for non-profit drug discovery includes partnering with pharmaceutical companies via licensing and any proceeds from licensing activities are re-invested in research and the stability of the institute, Chanda said.
The CAMPP portfolio includes later-stage programs that are expected to move through Investigational New Drug (IND)-enabling studies and clinical development over the course of the funding period, as well as highly innovative, early-stage ones. Over the award period, the Center will build multidisciplinary research capabilities that can be rapidly refocused in a new pandemic situation.
A Leading Role
Scripps Research will be one of 16 research institutions in the new CAMPP program, all of which will focus on a range of infectious diseases and innovative projects as “a highly integrated center,” Chanda said. “Scripps is leading a multi-institutional center where everyone will contribute to different aspects of the drug discovery pathway to enable the development of novel therapeutics.”
The other CAMPP participants bring expertise in virology, viral targets, chemistry and drug discovery and delivery. These institutions include the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Washington University in St. Louis, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, San Diego.
“We are very excited to continue and expand our previous collaborations with Dr. Chanda’s and Dr. Chatterjee’s groups for the discovery and advancement of novel antivirals against pathogenic viruses including SARS-CoV-2,” says co-lead investigator Adolfo Garcia-Sastre, Ph.D, professor in the department of Microbiology and director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
“This is a unique opportunity to bring together the best scientists and drug hunters in the world to ensure that we will all be much better prepared the next time a pandemic virus emerges,” Chanda added.
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