Scripps Research, the La Jolla institute that has played a key role in revealing the evolution and nature of COVID-19, has been awarded $67 million in federal funding to lead a consortium that will develop drugs to battle the constantly mutating virus.
The money comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which also is funding eight other drug centers across the country just as coronavirus infections are again on the rise, including in San Diego County.
The consortium will include Calibr, Scripps’ discovery company, as well as some of the nation’s best known research institutions, including UC San Diego, the Cleveland Clinic and University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
The program will enable scientists “to develop drugs for the existing pandemic so that we can complement (therapies) like Paxlovid and Molnupiravir,” said Sumit Chanda, a Scripps immunologist who will co-lead the consortium. “We need to take a combinatorial approach, like we do with HIV and Hepatitis C.
“And we need to get ready for the next pandemic by getting drugs in the pipeline and stockpiling them.”
Researchers at all nine NIAID consortiums will focus on developing drugs that can be taken in outpatient settings. They’ll also try to create therapies that would be effective against viral families that could cause future pandemics, including the high transmissible Ebola and Marburg viruses.
“The hope is to have drug candidates within the first couple of years of the proposal,” said Arnab Chatterjee, vice president of medicinal chemistry at Calibr. “We’ve been front loading programs that we think we can develop into drugs.”
Scripps has a long and successful history in drug development.
It played an important role in creating Humira, which is used to treat various types of arthritis, as well as Crohn’s disease and plaque psoriasis. Humira was the highest selling drug in the world in 2020, bringing in more than $20 billion for AbbVie.
The institute also helped develop Surfaxin, which is used to treat a breathing disorder in premature infants.
Scripps is one of the comparatively few private, non-profit biomedical institutes in the country that operates a sizable company trying to transform advances in basic research into new drug therapies, a process referred to as “bench-to-bedside.”