UNC-Chapel Hill Forges Global Partnership to Develop New Drugs for Future Pandemics

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), a Sullivan Foundation partner school, has joined with the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC) and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation to develop new medicines that could save lives in future pandemics.

The three partners announced in early April the launch of the Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI), a global organization aimed at discovering and developing drugs to put “on the shelf” for clinical trial testing in anticipation of future viral pandemics similar to the COVID-19 crisis that has wreaked havoc on the American economy.

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“We are proud to help launch READDI,” said UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz in a statement. “We are also proud of the three schools—the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, the School of Medicine, and the Gillings School of Global Public Health—that created this concept and will be collaborating closely. It is uniquely structured to innovate for the public good, just as we do at Carolina. Through this initiative, researchers will be able to create new therapies that will help people live longer, healthier lives.”

READDI is modeled after DNDi, a proven model for non-profit drug research and development.  In READDI, projects will adopt extreme open-science methods, sharing drug discovery progress with other researchers in real time so that all can benefit. The nonprofit aims to raise $125 million to generate five new drugs with human safety and dosing data in five years to be ready for the next pandemic.

READDI’s website notes that most pharmaceutical companies can’t afford to make a drug before there is a market need for it. That means the scientific community can get caught flatfooted by an outbreak of a new virus. Additionally, there are large gaps in the scientific community that prevent effective communications and potential breakthroughs.

READDI aims to solve both problems. Through the organization’s global access model, “READDI will accelerate the pace of antiviral discovery globally for three viral families with the most pandemic potential—coronaviruses, flaviviruses and alphaviruses.”

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According to SGC Chief Executive Officer Aled Edwards, the collaborative effort is overdue. “The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the need for the world’s top researchers and drug discoverers to work together to invent new therapies,” Edwards said. “We should have done this decades ago, but READDI has the potential to make sure we are never caught off-guard again.”

Added DNDi  Research & Development Director Laurent Fraisse: “We are excited to support this much-needed effort in anti-viral drug development. We are happy to lend our hand in any way to ensure the global community is better prepared for any future pandemics.”

This article was adapted from a press release on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill website.

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