Industry-Sponsored Research Week

U Alabama-Birmingham continues work with Gilead on trials of Remdesivir


By David Schwartz
Published: April 7th, 2020

Remdesivir, the antiviral produced by Gilead Sciences, has been in the news frequently as a potential therapeutic for COVID-19 infection, but what most people don’t know is that it was co-developed by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Now the school is continuing its research, conducting clinical trials in a collaboration with the drugmaker.

Richard Whitley, MD, professor at UAB, was principal investigator of the U19 grant that led to remdesivir, with the research conducted through UAB’s Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center. UAB was awarded a $37.5 million, five-year U19 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Centers of Excellence for Translational Research to study and develop treatments for high-priority emerging infections, before the COVID-19 outbreak began. Earlier work focused on drugs for emerging influenza strains, flaviviruses like dengue, West Nile virus and Zika, coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS, and alphaviruses such as Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus and chikungunya. The grant is a multi-institutional collaboration to accelerate drug discovery for these emerging infections and is a public-private partnership between academic institutions and Gilead Sciences.

Remdesivir, developed initially to treat the coronavirus causing MERS, was found to have significant activity against the 2019-nCoV strain when the outbreak began in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Importantly, remdesivir had demonstrated efficacy in treating MERS and SARS in cell culture and animal models. Based on the compassionate plea requests of treating physicians in the U.S., Gilead released remdesivir for use in a few patients, although the drug has not yet been tested for safety or efficacy in COVID-19 or other coronaviruses.

“The release of remdesivir for safety and efficacy studies is a major accomplishment for the AD3C — namely the U19 grant — as it shows significant and swift advance of antiviral drugs to help treat and respond to emerging infectious disease outbreaks on an international scale,” Whitley said.

Gilead is now working with UAB as well as other researchers and clinicians, as well as with health authorities from the World Health Organization and in China, on a placebo-controlled study to determine whether remdesivir is safe and effective in treating 2019-nCoV.

While UAB is the lead institution for AD3C, the team unifies scientists experienced in virology, viral immunology, pathogenesis, medicinal chemistry and translation to human disease from UAB, University of North Carolina, Vanderbilt University, Emory University, Washington University, The University of Texas Medical Branch, Southern Research, the Emory Institute of Drug Discovery, the University of Colorado-Denver, and Oregon Health & Science University.

“The collaboration between UAB, our colleagues … [and] with our pharmaceutical partner Gilead Sciences is indicative of our collaborative approach to respond to outbreaks in real time, and in helping communities worldwide fight 2019-nCoV. This is a prime example of how the research we are conducting at UAB plays a critical role in treating patients on a global scale and our contribution of substantial scientific advances,” Whitley added.  

He also noted that the potential for mutation of 2019-nCoV means that UAB’s AD3C and partners will need to build backup molecules for potential testing and treatment in the near future.

Source: UAB News

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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