Two researchers from the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health have been awarded a grant for more than six million dollars to accelerate the development of a promising new drug in the fight against deadly coronaviruses.
[Photo: “Emerging coronaviruses represent a significant and ongoing global health threat,” said UNC’s Dr. Ralph Baric (top) and Dr. Timothy Sheahan (bottom). Photo by Sergio Alvarez]
Dr. Ralph S. Baric, professor, and Dr. Timothy Sheahan, research assistant professor, both in the department of epidemiology at the Gillings School, are co-principal investigators for the grant. Awarded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “partnership grants” are designed to forge collaborations between experts from industry and academia to develop tools in the fight against high-priority emerging pathogens such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), Zika virus and Ebola virus.
The partnership grant awarded to Baric and Sheahan establishes a collaboration between the Gillings School and Gilead Sciences Inc., Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of Texas Medical Branch. The collaboration builds upon an earlier partnership between the Gillings School and Gilead Sciences Inc., and will focus specifically on GS-5734, an experimental antiviral treatment.
In previous studies, Drs. Baric and Sheahan and colleagues found that GS-5734 prevents the development of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) in mice. The drug also was shown to inhibit MERS-CoV and multiple other coronaviruses (CoV), suggesting that it may actually inhibit all CoV.
“One main goal of this research will be to obtain the data needed to file GS-5734 as an investigational new drug with the Food and Drug Administration, which is the first step toward a human clinical trial,” Dr. Sheahan explained. “Gilead Sciences will contribute drugs, offer their expertise in drug development and perform experimentation as needed. On our end, we’re bringing a highly unique laboratory set-up and the skills to conduct innovative research that will bring this drug closer to reaching the people who need it.”
To date, there are no approved therapies to treat any kind of CoV infection. Coronaviruses are of special concern to public health practitioners because they can jump, without warning, from animals into the human population, and they tend to spread rapidly. The elderly are especially vulnerable.
“Emerging CoV represent a significant and ongoing global health threat,” said Dr. Baric. “For the first time, our studies are providing potent treatment options designed not only to protect individuals from life-threatening coronavirus infections but also to block transmission patterns in high-risk settings. The UNC-Gilead partnership provides an outstanding model designed to protect the public against current and future emerging virus outbreaks.”