The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Medicine has long been involved in tackling infectious disease and facilitating the development of new drug therapies. In 2008, UAB and the Southern Research Institute collaborated to create the Alabama Drug Discovery Alliance (ADDA), which has been working to develop new drug therapies for a number of viruses.

Over the past five years, the ADDA has spent a lot of time, money and energy on building up their infrastructure and technological capacity.

These efforts have paid off.

Recently, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has provided a $35 million, five-year grant to the UAB School of Medicine. This money is being used to establish the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C), a national research consortium focusing on the discovery of new and better drug therapies.

The AD3C is focusing on developing therapies against four specific RNA virus families – influenza, flaviviruses, coronaviruses, and alphaviruses. These infections cause diseases including West Nile virus, SARS, MERS, chikungunya and dengue fever.

UAB will be coordinating with top research scientists from across the country, who will be working to target and inhibit the expression of specific enzymes that are essential for viral replication.

Richard J. Whitley, M.D., will serve as the principal investigator and program director of the new center. He is a distinguished professor at UAB School of Medicine and is a renowned expert in antiviral treatments.

The AD3C will be comprised of three main cores: an administrative core, a screening core and a medicinal chemistry and lead development core.

The administrative core will be housed at UAB and deal with the daily operations of the center, as well as monitor and review the research progress. The screening core will be located at the Southern Research Institute and will develop screening assays for compounds that inhibit viral replication. Lastly, the medicinal chemistry and lead development core will also be located at the Research Institute and will be the main center for creating new potential therapies.

The AD3C hopes to reduce the global burden of disease that represents both biological threats to U.S. citizens and unmet medical needs to people across the globe.

Program director, Whitley, is confident that over the next five years the center will be able to develop leading drug therapies to accomplish just that.

He notes, “This team of investigators from across the country and their respective institutions represent terrific intellectual talent to address these challenges.”

– Mollie O’Brien

Sources: ICT, UAB
Photo: UMMC