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Photo of pills of various sizes and colors

In 2021, RTI launched Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge with the goal of supporting bold, innovative project proposals that address critical societal challenges through regional collaboration. The Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI) was chosen as the awardee, bringing together a consortium of local research institutions working to develop new antiviral drugs to combat future pandemics. 

Objectives of READDI: Treating Current and Future Coronaviruses

READDI’s goal is to create broad-spectrum small-molecule drugs that can be taken in pill form and target entire families of related viruses, focusing on coronaviruses. “Not only would it be a treatment for SARS and MERS and SARS-CoV-2, but it would also be exceedingly likely to work against future coronaviruses as well,” said Dr. Nat Moorman, co-founder of READDI. 

The READDI Forethought team includes researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and RTI, ensuring a multidisciplinary approach to the development of these antiviral treatments.

Logo of Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge

READDI Progress Since 2021

Since 2021, the READDI team has identified and validated potential drug targets by searching for proteins on host cells that are critical for viral replication. Related viruses, such as those within the coronavirus family, use the same cellular proteins to replicate, making drugs that target these proteins an effective way to prevent future coronavirus infections. Because human cells contain tens of thousands of different proteins, the READDI team leveraged the partner institutions’ diverse fields of expertise, including virology, artificial intelligence and computational biology, medicinal chemistry, biological screening, and pharmaceuticals, to narrow the field.

They employed various methods to analyze the literature and identify potential host cell targets. They then used a variety of techniques such as CRISPR to inhibit these targets to analyze their effectiveness and safety. Three targets emerged as suitable candidates after several rounds of this iterative process.

Now that targets have been validated, the team is developing assays to screen small molecule libraries for compounds that block coronavirus replication by inhibiting these targets. These compounds will then be the focus of subsequent drug development efforts, including testing in preclinical models.

“We are excited to apply RTI’s deep medicinal chemistry and drug discovery knowledge to develop the next generation of antiviral therapies and to explore expanding to other virus families in the future,” said Scott Runyon, senior director of RTI’s Center for Drug Discovery.

RTI’s early support, along with initial funding from UNC-Chapel Hill and the NC Collaboratory, allowed READDI to provide proof-of-concept to additional funders, including the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the North Carolina General Assembly.

“The READDI Forethought team brings a range of expertise from across the region, demonstrating an impactful approach to leveraging the strengths of RTI, Triangle/North Carolina universities, and other regional partners to enhance our collective impact,” says Katie Bowler Young, senior director of University Collaborations at RTI. 

READDI Expands: Regional Collaboration

The READDI team is also expanding beyond the Research Triangle to include other North Carolina-based institutions, including collaboration with UNC Charlotte, Western Carolina University, and East Carolina University. 

“We knew that there was no way any one university or any company alone could solve this problem. The RTI Forethought funding was critical in helping us bring this initiative together starting here in our own region,” said Dr. Moorman.

“When it comes to big, bold initiatives like the one we’ve taken on at READDI—developing antiviral therapeutics for future pandemics—it’s hard to overstate the importance of the Research Triangle’s rich research ecosystem,” said READDI CEO Jimmy Rosen. “Through its Forethought Challenge funding, RTI International made a critical investment in READDI and the ecosystem upon which we depend.”

Through these local and statewide collaborative efforts, the READDI team is paving the way for the development of groundbreaking antiviral treatments that will treat both existing and future coronavirus infections before they reach pandemic levels. 


Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge was developed by RTI and the RTI Board of Governors University Research Collaboration Committee (URCC) to build on a foundation of recent investments in successful university collaborations and help stimulate transformational change for the region, contributing to the distinctive intellectual and institutional resources and capabilities of the Research Triangle region

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Scott Runyon (Director, Organic and Medicinal Chemistry) and Rangan (Ronnie) Maitra (Research Pharmacologist) to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.