David Ho in the lab speaking with another scientist

Columbia Scientists Join Consortium to Develop New Antivirals for SARS-CoV-2 and Emerging Viruses

Scientists at Columbia University have joined a regional consortium of academic and industry partners to accelerate the development of new drugs that target SARS-CoV-2, other coronaviruses, and viruses that could lead to future pandemics.

“We need to bring together every possible biomedical resource to meet the challenge of the current pandemic and prepare for the next ones,” says David D. Ho, MD, the Clyde’56 and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a principal member of the new consortium. “By combining academia’s expertise in identifying new drug targets and developing promising drug compounds with the pharmaceutical industry’s ability to optimize and test new therapeutics, we can bridge the gaps that often hinder drug development.”

The new consortium, called the Metropolitan AntiViral Drug Accelerator (MAVDA), is funded by a five-year, $108 million grant from the Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern program of the National Institutes of Health.

Focus on oral antivirals

The consortium’s overall goal is to quickly develop oral antiviral drugs that patients can take at home.

“But instead of developing drugs that are designed to target one virus, we hope to develop drugs that can work against many different viruses, at a fraction of the time, cost, and effort of traditional approaches,” Ho says.

Other Columbia scientists participating in MAVDA include Stephen Goff, PhD, the Higgins Professor of Microbiology & Immunology; Alejandro Chavez, MD, assistant professor of pathology & cell biology; Jingyue Ju, PhD, the Samuel Ruben-Peter G. Viele Professor of Engineering; and Lawrence Shapiro, PhD, professor of biochemistry & molecular biophysics.

MAVDA is led by David Perlin, PhD, of the Hackensack Center for Discovery and Innovation, and Charles Rice, PhD, of Rockefeller University. The consortium also includes researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Rutgers University, Merck & Co., the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute, Takeda Pharmaceuticals, and Aligos Therapeutics.

Two oral antivirals for SARS-CoV-2 infections are currently available, but more may be needed as drug therapy becomes more common and variants that evade the treatments develop.

Columbia brings to MAVDA extensive experience in antiviral research. Its Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center was a pioneer in the development of combination antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS and more recently has conducted multiple studies of the virus's evolution and susceptibility to vaccines, antivirals, and monoclonals.

“Viral pathogens present a serious threat to public health and an economic burden to society, yet for most viruses, there are no approved antiviral compounds,” says Ho. “Worse still, this treatment gap continues to widen due to a continuous stream of emerging viral pathogens, such as MERS, Zika, and SARS-CoV-2.”


More information

MAVDA is supported by NIH grant 1U19AI171401-01.

David Ho leads a sub-project titled “Multiplex Small Molecule Discovery to Identify Broad-Acting Viral Protease Inhibitors."

Jingyue Ju leads a sub-project titled “Discovery and Optimization of Inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 Polymerase and Exonuclease.”

Lawrence Shapiro leads a sub-project titled “Structural Biology and Computational Modeling Core.”