The University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Research of Birmingham will be part of an international program that will try to identify existing drugs that may be effective in treating people exposed to COVID-19.
The effort, coordinated by Scripps Research of La Jolla, California, involves ReFRAME, a large collection of drugs developed for other diseases and known to be safe for humans, UAB said today.
Calibr, the drug-development division of Scripps Research, will work with scientists from the United States, Europe and Asia to identify drugs or combinations of drugs that could be used for COVID-19.
The UAB program will be led by Dr. Rich Whitley, distinguished professor of pediatrics.
Whitley’s Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center at UAB was awarded a five-year, $37.5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Centers of Excellence for Translational Research in 2019 to study and develop treatments for high-priority infections. These include the coronaviruses that caused SARS and MERS, along with the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, UAB said.
“We will screen the Scripps Calibr repurposed library of compounds to determine if any licensed drugs have activity against Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19,” Whitley said. “If there are any that are active, we will plug them into my National Institutes of Health U19 grant and, specifically, the coronavirus project.”
Drug screening in Birmingham will be carried out at Southern Research’s High-Throughput Screening Center. The facility uses advanced robotic equipment and a staff with the capacity to run a variety of tests.
Remdesivir, an investigational drug developed by Whitley for MERS and now produced by Gilead Sciences, is currently being tested in hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.