Global initiative will accelerate the discovery and development of antiviral drug candidates that can be distributed quickly and equitably next time the world faces a pandemic threat.
The Novo Nordisk Foundation, Open Philanthropy, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced an initial commitment of up to $90 million of coordinated funding toward Pandemic Antiviral Discovery (PAD), a new initiative to catalyze discovery and early development of antiviral medicines for future pandemics. With equitable access as a core principle of the initiative, the founding partners are committed to ensuring that discoveries and innovations supported by PAD are accessible to people in low- and middle-income countries.
The goal of PAD is to help researchers worldwide identify and develop phase 2-ready antiviral drug candidates that target pandemic threat viruses, including coronaviruses, paramyxoviruses, and orthomyxoviruses. These three virus families are widely considered to have the highest potential of generating a future pandemic threat, but many of the diseases they cause primarily affect people in low- and middle-income countries and lack market incentives for the research and development of effective drugs to treat them. These virus families include notable epidemic threats, such as Nipah virus, influenza, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
By focusing on small molecule drugs that can be delivered orally and are cheaper and easier for patients to access than biologic drugs, PAD aims to help ensure the world is prepared to quickly develop and equitably deploy effective, accessible antiviral treatments next time a pandemic threat emerges.
Mads Krogsgaard Thomsen, CEO, Novo Nordisk Foundation said:
The duration of the COVID-19 pandemic serves as a reminder that the world needs to invest in next-generation tools to combat emerging threats. We can’t wait until the next pandemic hits to begin developing them.
Drawing on the resources, knowledge, and expertise of each of the foundations, PAD will initially focus on supporting projects aimed at:
- Developing research and technology to increase understanding of the priority viruses and help identify and validate targets within the three target virus families
- Identifying new chemical matter, including by compound library screening and structure-guided drug design, and optimizing antiviral lead compounds through medicinal chemistry and focused biological research
- Advancing promising antiviral candidates through phase 1 human safety and pharmacokinetic studies
- Stimulating cutting-edge, high-risk technology that has the potential to transform and accelerate future antiviral drug discovery
Alexander Berger, co-CEO of Open Philanthropy said:
We see this as a promising opportunity to address one of the most severe risks to global welfare. Given the significant and perhaps unprecedented potential for harm from pandemic viruses, we are especially interested in breakthrough research that applies to a wide swath of pathogen types.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that global health security cannot be achieved in silos and will require contributions from the public and private sectors. Through PAD, the funders will collaborate with governments, academic institutions, and private-sector funders to de-risk promising antiviral candidates—increasing their probability of advancing to the clinical stage.
Trevor Mundel, president of Global Health at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said:
The COVID-19 pandemic will eventually come to an end, but the urgency of investing in the necessary tools to prevent and stop pandemics will only continue to grow. Ensuring antivirals can be deployed on short notice and at low cost to everyone who needs them is a critical step if we are to be prepared for the next pandemic. We look forward to collaborating with other funders from across public, private, and nonprofit sectors to accelerate this important initiative with equitable access at its core.
PAD funding partners will use a variety of models, including direct grants and requests for proposals (RFPs), within defined research topics. The first RFP will be announced during the International Conference on Antiviral Research (ICAR) in Seattle, Washington, March 21-25. The focus of the first RFP will be henipavirus, a subfamily of paramyxovirus that includes Nipah virus—a pathogen with an estimated fatality rate of 40% to 75%. Researchers from around the world are encouraged to submit proposals for this and future RFPs.