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Viruses within the same viral family may have enough in common that scientists can use one to find a treatment for another, rapidly advancing development of antiviral treatments for future diseases.

That’s the mission of the recently launched Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI), an open-science, nonprofit drug research and development organization hosted at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The initiative seeks to combat virus families that cause the majority of the world’s epidemics — and pandemics — by identifying similar changes in their cellular proteins that are essential for viral replication. The hope is to create drugs to block those changes to prevent viral disease.

a graphic showing orange antibodies attacking a purple virus
A 3D illustration of antibodies attacking a virus cell within the bloodstream. (Adobe Stock)

Employing expertise from UNC’s School of Medicine, the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, READDI is creating “self-stable” antiviral therapeutics for each of the main virus families. These will be poised for rapid development against new pandemic viruses as they emerge. The team is currently identifying kinase targets to block SARS-CoV-2 replication, the virus that creates the COVID-19 disease.

“A mad scramble to come up with something every time a novel disease emerges is never going to be an effective strategy,” says Nathaniel Moorman, UNC microbiologist and immunologist and co-founder of READDI. “By identifying changes in all the viruses within a family, we could develop a broad-spectrum antiviral drug for the next one before it affects humans, taking years off of traditional drug development timelines.”

READDI is the evolution of an interdisciplinary research project called the Infectious Disease Discovery Program at UNC (ID3@UNC), which was created to develop therapeutics useful in treating multiple viral diseases. The project was funded through the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research’s Creativity Hubs award program — which brings together researchers from diverse fields to accelerate new discoveries and solutions to societal challenges — and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation.

Having a team already in place allowed the group to nimbly and quickly respond to the novel coronavirus outbreak and identify more partners who can help in the fight against it.

“This work is beyond any one lab or place,” Moorman says. “With READDI being open-science, we’ll be able to leverage expertise around the world and start creating treatments for illnesses that don’t yet exist.”


READDI is a partnership supported by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation.

UNC READDI team members include Ralph Baric, Gillings School of Public Health; Lee Graves, School of Medicine; Mark Heise, School of Medicine; Helen Lazear, School of Medicine; Nat Moorman, School of Medicine; Ken Pearce, CICBDD, Eshelman School of Pharmacy; Tim Sheahan, Gillings School of Public Health; Xiaodong Wang, CICBDD, Eshelman School of Pharmacy; and Tim Willson, SGC-UNC, Eshelman School of Pharmacy.

Nathaniel Moorman is an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology within the UNC School of Medicine.

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