The grant will support four research teams taking different approaches to the development of drugs or antibodies that could prevent infection or, in individuals already infected, block the continued replication of the virus. They include a new drug screening approach to rapidly screen compounds that block the protease functions of 2019-nCoV; an approach in which hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds are screened to identify compounds that inhibit the production of an enzyme called polymerase, which viruses rely on to replicate; an approach to identifying polymerase inhibitors involving synthetic chemical compounds; and an approach focused on developing monoclonal antibodies that can bind to the surface of the virus and neutralize it.
Led by David D. Ho, founding scientific director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and a professor of medicine at Columbia, the teams expect to advance at least one protease inhibitor, one polymerase inhibitor, and one monoclonal antibody into clinical trials within a year.
As of Monday morning, South Korea had reported hundreds of new infections, the New York Times reports, while Iran had reported at least a dozen virus-related deaths. Elsewhere, Italy saw the reported number of coronavirus cases spike to more than two hundred — nearly half of them in Lombardy — and had locked down ten towns in the northern part of the country with a total population of fifty thousand.
"Over the past two decades we’ve seen the emergence of three deadly coronaviruses: SARS, MERS, and now 2019-nCoV," said Ho. "We believe it is likely that new coronaviruses will emerge in the future. The four projects we are now pursuing against 2019-nCoV were chosen because we believe they will lead to the development of a broad spectrum antiviral drug or antibody that could be effective against a wide range of current and future coronaviruses."
(Photo credit: Columbia University)