News Feature | April 15, 2014

UAB Building Drug Discovery Center To Combat West Nile Virus And Influenza

By Marcus Johnson

The University of Alabama at Birmingham announced last month that it is building a new drug discovery center in order to develop drug treatments for viral infections with limited options for treatment. The UAB School of Medicine is leading the project to develop the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center (AD3C). The establishment of AD3C is being funded by a five year, $35 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health.

Richard Whitley, Professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at UAB, will head AD3C. He said that without the partnership between UAB and the Southern Research Institute that started in 2008, the establishment of AD3C wouldn’t be possible. “UAB and SRI have spent a lot of time, money, and energy developing the ADDA over the last five years,” he said. “Having done that, being awarded this grant shows how that investment can pay off.”

The center is expected to focus on influenza, flaviviruses, coronaviruses and alphaviruses. Viruses belonging to those RNA families include SARS, MERS, West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya. Whitley added that the US government is interested in finding treatments for those viruses. “These families of viruses are of the highest priority for the U.S. government; they represent both biologic threats and unmet medical needs,” said Whitley. “We will also strive to develop therapies for emerging infections such as coronaviruses, dengue, and chikungunya, which pose risks for traveling U.S. citizens or could be imported into the country.”

UAB and SRI researchers plan to work closely with other major institutions in order to target and inhibit enzymes that encourage viral replication. AD3C will be providing the infrastructure that enables researchers to develop new drugs in the lab and get them into clinical trials more quickly.