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UAB drug discovery program leads to potential coronavirus breakthrough, underlines importance of genomics project

Work done at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has led to the investigational drug remdesivir, which is now being used to treat select infected patients in the United States and China who have been afflicted with novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

As outlined by UAB, remdesivir was developed through research conducted through the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, or AD3C, which is coordinated out of the Birmingham university.

A release from UAB explained that the drug discovery came from a public-private partnership that also included Birmingham-based Southern Research and the pharmaceutical company Gilead Science. The work was funded by a federal grant awarded to UAB after U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) became chair of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee.

UAB detailed the following:

Remdesivir, developed 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 other medically important coronaviruses MERS and SARS in cell culture and animal models. Based on the compassionate plea requests of treating physicians in the United States, Gilead Sciences released remdesivir for use in a few patients, although the drug has not yet been tested for safety or efficacy in these diseases.

“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 and, importantly, to anticipate the introduction of these infections in the United States,” stated Richard Whitley, M.D., distinguished professor at UAB and principal investigator of the grant that led to the discovery.

This kind of groundbreaking research spearheaded by UAB is a prime example of why many legislative and industry leaders in the state, especially in the Birmingham area, are calling on Governor Kay Ivey to fund a world-class genomics facility at the university. They argue that the project could make Birmingham the “Silicon Valley of Biomedicine.”

Read more about that project and its importance here.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn