February 17, 2021 by
Amid the biomedical science world’s race to develop and distribute vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, a hard-working team made up of a Larner College of Medicine scientist and partners at Lebanon, N.H.-based Celdara Medical are busy building a potentially game-changing therapy to fight RNA viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
The team, which includes University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Jason Botten, Ph.D., recently received a two-year Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This funding supports the development of a novel, broad-spectrum therapeutic/prophylactic against RNA viruses, which, in addition to the virus responsible for COVID-19, include SARS, Ebola, influenza, and pathogenic arenaviruses.
This work builds on discoveries made by Botten, who serves as principal investigator for the project and is also a scientific founder of Celdara, and a founding member of Celdara’s Pandemic Security Initiative Scientific Advisory Board.
“RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 continue to wreak havoc on a world ill-equipped to control them,” says Irena Ivanovska, Ph.D., Celdara’s program lead and director. “Successful development of this broad-spectrum antiviral agent would provide a novel first-line therapy and importantly, enable rapid deployment during new or re-emerging viral outbreaks such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.”
Botten’s research has demonstrated that the drug’s target is required for the propagation of arenaviruses, coronaviruses, and filoviruses, and that it associates with these viruses as well as orthomyxoviruses and hantaviruses. In the target’s absence, viral particles cannot attach to host cells, effectively stopping viral spread.
“We’ve made great strides to understand how this protein regulates the infectivity of viral particles, and the NIAID funding provides an exciting opportunity to move beyond the basic science and to translate our discoveries into medicines,” says Botten. “Because the host molecule targeted is required for multiple families of pathogenic viruses, we expect that a single antiviral could broadly protect against many of the most dangerous pathogenic threats, thereby preventing or at least mitigating future outbreaks and pandemics. We are thrilled by this opportunity to develop such a countermeasure.”
Celdara, an experienced biopharma developer, has a robust anti-infectives pipeline which forms the foundation from which the Pandemic Security Initiative (PanSec) was launched. PanSec is a public-private partnership which has a singular goal to ensure better preparedness for the next pandemic.
Botten and Celdara began their collaboration in 2016 to develop medicines for treatment of emerging and re-emerging hemorrhagic fever viruses. Since that time, they have secured support from NIH and other funding sources to develop drugs to treat a range of highly pathogenic RNA viruses, including hantaviruses, arenaviruses, coronaviruses, and filoviruses.
Jake Reder, Ph.D., Celdara’s cofounder and CEO, says, “We are proud to continue our highly productive partnership with Professor Botten and the University of Vermont, and we are especially excited about the potential of this work in particular. An innovative, safe, and effective broad-spectrum antiviral that could be used both prophylactically and therapeutically is the holy grail of pandemic preparedness. With the support of NIH, we will determine just how close we can come to this ideal. Should we be successful, the resulting medicine would redefine how humanity prepares itself against viral threats.”
(This article was adapted from a press release produced by Celdara Medical.)