UF Scripps Biomedical Research scientists tapped to develop new pandemic medications
Omicron could already be in the U.S., Anthony Fauci beleives.

UF Scripps scientists will join their peers from around the country who also have expertise in virology and drug development.

Seven University of Florida Scripps Biomedical Research scientists and an engineer have been chosen as part of a national federal effort to develop new medications to address the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease announced last week that it was directing $577 million in research grants to nine groups in an effort to bring new treatments for dangerous viral diseases.

The federal agency calls the groups “Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern.” The AViDD grant awards to UF Scripps-directed projects and scientific core services could total more than $15 million over the next three to five years.

Patrick Griffin, the scientific director of UF Scripps Biomedical Research, said the grant awards highlight unique strengths of the institute including rapid drug screening, RNA drug discovery and virology.

He said that the faculty at the institute are “global leaders in their respective fields.”

“When the SARS-CoV-2 threat emerged, these scientists and their teams mobilized to help in the fight against the virus,” Griffin said in a statement. “With the support of these grants, UF Scripps scientists can continue to use their talents to benefit human health and help protect people from this and other pandemic viruses.”

UF Scripps scientists will join scientists around the country who also have expertise in virology and drug development. One group is led by professors at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. A second group, the Center for Antiviral Medicines & Pandemic Preparedness, is led by virologist Sumit Chanda, a professor of immunology and microbiology at Scripps Research and its drug-discovery arm, Calibr.

The third, named Development of Outpatient Antiviral Cocktails Against SARS-CoV-2 and Other Potential Pandemic RNA Viruses, is led by Jeffrey Glenn, professor of microbiology and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

The Midwest AViDD center will study multiple steps in how the viruses enter cells, make copies of themselves, then escape to infect new cells.

UF Scripps professors Hyeryun Choe and Michael Farzan will focus on Lassa fever and related hemorrhagic fevers caused by a group of viruses called arenaviruses.

The UF Scripps High-Throughput Molecular Screening team will work to rapidly screen UF Scripps’ massive compound collections for drugs that disrupt many steps in the viral life cycle.

Working with the Center for Antiviral Medicines & Pandemic Preparedness is Farzan, chair of the UF Scripps Department of Immunology and Microbiology, virologist Choe and chemist Matthew D. Disney, who chairs the UF Scripps Department of Chemistry. Farzan and Choe’s labs will work to find new drugs to block the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cells.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a release announcing the grants, said the COVID-19 pandemic “has highlighted the need for new antiviral drugs, especially those that could easily be taken by patients at home while their symptoms are still mild.”

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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