COVID-19 has presented unprecedented challenges for people around the world. Public health experts have been working to lessen its impact on individuals and communities while also preparing for future viral pandemics. New viruses continue to emerge—more frequently than ever before—and we lack the antiviral therapeutics needed to quickly combat these viruses. Strategic research partnerships integrating scientists with different complementary expertise are essential to accelerate the discovery of novel broad-spectrum antivirals.
How is the READDI Forethought team responding to the public health challenge?
The READDI (Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative) Forethought team brings together a coalition of researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University and RTI to address this challenge.
Chosen as the inaugural awardee of Forethought: The RTI $5M+ Research Collaboration Challenge—led by RTI leadership in partnership with the University Research Collaboration Committee of RTI’s Board of Governors—the READDI Forethought team brings together experts in virology, medicinal chemistry, biological screening, and artificial intelligence to develop innovative methods to help solve the world’s most critical problems.
“Health and equitable regional economic growth are priorities at RTI,” said Jacqueline M. Olich, vice president, University Collaborations. “When you combine these values with what we were looking for in the Forethought team—that they were regionally collaborative, impactful, innovative, and focused on achievable results with enduring and nationally recognizable results—the READDI team’s proposal stood out for its bold plan to attack one of the most critical global issues of our time.”
To date, the team is working together to identify novel druggable targets for new broad-spectrum antivirals. Senior investigators are prioritizing biological targets that can be modulated by chemical agents to stop viral threats. This complex process began by analyzing around 120 targets, which, by November, should be narrowed down to two to three top targets for subsequent drug discovery and development efforts.
“It has been an amazing experience to work with this exceptionally talented group of researchers from across the region on such an important problem—preparing for the next pandemic,” said Dr. Nat Moorman, READDI co-founder and Forethought team leader.
Using Collaboration as a Driving Force for Antiviral Drug Development
READDI’s emphasis on collaboration is sustained by a culture of respect, listening to one another, and highlighting individual strengths of team members. READDI brings together investigators from UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Central University and RTI, each who provide unique perspectives and insights that are critical to achieving project objectives. This philosophy—along with the overall commitment to and focus on the science—symbolizes the spirit of RTI and the Research Triangle region.
Each expert brings a specific expertise that is helping move the project forward. Their home institutions contribute a range of strengths, including:
- NC State has strong data management expertise
- Duke brings its extensive experience in genomics and virology
- NC Central has a unique capability conducting screening activities, and carries social awareness related to the research and its role relative to different populations, including populations that have greater disproportionate and negative health outcomes
- UNC has first-hand knowledge with viruses and pathogens—both in labs and in hospitals and high-level expertise in computational drug discovery approaches
- RTI is a leader in academic drug discovery, including expertise in synthesizing and testing novel small molecules
Along with the institutional diversity that exists on the project team, READDI involves a combination of experienced and up-and-coming investigators that further highlights the unique thought leadership and skill that each member of the project team brings to the table.
The Future of Antiviral Drug Development Starts Here
RTI’s Forethought Research Collaboration Challenge was designed to create new and strengthen existing partnerships among the research institutions in the Research Triangle region, and that collaborative nature is apparent in the efforts of the READDI Forethought team. While READDI Forethought is promoting teamwork among area colleagues, the research has the potential to have significant impacts on global health by developing the drugs we need to be prepared for future pandemics.