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02 Jun 2020

The University of Dundee’s Drug Discovery Unit (DDU) has received €5 million of funding to develop antiviral treatments for Covid-19 and future coronaviruses.

The DDU has received €5 million of funding to develop antiviral treatments for Covid-19 and future coronaviruses.

This significant investment by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome and Mastercard, will enable DDU scientists to begin work immediately on identifying novel anti-coronavirus agents. The three-year Lead Optimization for Coronavirus Infections (LO4CVI) project will focus on identifying safe, orally dosed candidate drugs with the potential to tackle acute infections and reduce transmission in the general population.

While the primary focus will be on Covid-19, an important feature of LO4CVI will be to produce broad-spectrum drugs that work against coronaviruses in general, as the coronavirus family has already given rise to diseases such as MERS and SARS as well as Covid-19. These will be important weapons should Covid-19 remain in circulation in the long-term, or if related coronavirus strains emerge in the future.

Professor Paul Wyatt, Head of the DDU, said, “Covid-19 will not be the last coronavirus the world will face and, even if it is brought under control, we are still in the early stage of what will be a long-term fight.

“This investment enables us to bring Dundee’s expertise in drug discovery to bear on Covid-19 and future strains. This is an insurance policy for the future because we want drugs proven to be effective against coronaviruses ready on the shelf when future outbreaks occur.

“This virus is a highly evolved organism that consists of only 28 proteins. It has become incredibly refined and successful by shedding all non-essential components. Therefore, the virus that causes Covid-19 can only replicate by taking over the machinery of a host cell. In doing so it prevents the host cell from working properly, causing organ damage.

“The understanding of the role these and key host proteins play, and the knowledge gathered from studying SARS and other coronaviruses, will provide us with starting points in our quest to identify potential drugs. Antivirals work by inhibiting the development of the disease rather than killing a target pathogen, as antibiotics do.

”We are therefore looking for candidate drugs that can stop Covid-19 from infecting new cells or replicating once it has infected the cell. Because we know there are only a small number of virus and host proteins that are essential for Covid-19 to successfully replicate, we can focus our work to hopefully make rapid progress.”

The Drug Discovery Unit was established in 2006 to translate world-class biology research into novel drug targets and candidate drugs. The group works across multiple disease areas and collaborates with global partners to address unmet medical needs.