Wide Search to Repurpose Drugs for Sars-Cov-2

UAB picked to join international effort in search of existing drugs useful against COVID-19

Rich Whitley, M.D.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham has been tapped to join an international effort to test drugs for their usefulness against COVID-19.

The effort, coordinated by Scripps Research, will focus on ReFRAME, a vast collection of drugs developed to fight other diseases and already deemed safe for humans. UAB researchers will work with counterparts at Calibr, the drug development division of Scripps Research, along with scientists from the United States, Europe and Asia.

Rich Whitley, M.D., distinguished professor of pediatrics, will lead the UAB effort.

“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.”

In 2019, 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 to study and develop treatments for high-priority infections.

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Those included the viruses the caused SARS and MERS, the resident bad boys at the time.

In Birmingham, the screening of the ReFRAME compounds will be done at Southern Research’s state-of-the-art High-Throughput Screening Center, which has advanced robotic equipment and a well-trained staff with the capacity to run a wide variety of assay types.

Southern Research is a nonprofit scientific research organization, and its board is chaired by UAB President Ray Watts, M.D.

Compounds showing promise at Southern Research would then get further study from Whitley’s collaborators at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

Shortly after the initial COVID-19 outbreak began in China, Calibr began sharing the ReFRAME library and conducting joint experiments with other research teams at Scripps Research and collaborating institutions worldwide. Support comes from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

At UAB, Whitley holds the Loeb Eminent Scholar Chair in Pediatrics.

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