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Carolina Discoveries

Portrait of Penny Gordon-Larsen

Welcome to Carolina Discoveries, a blog from Interim Vice Chancellor for Research Penny Gordon-Larsen about current topics pertinent to the Carolina research community. Every month Dr. Gordon-Larsen will post a personal message that provides updates from the OVCR organization, insights from the greater UNC research enterprise, or recognition of those that help make us one of the top public research universities in the world.

A Triumph of Many

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, June 8, 2022

Carolina is famous for its low stone walls – our culture of collaboration – that leads to exceptional research and exciting discoveries. Our unique, collaborative campus, in combination with our breadth of science, allows translational thinking and approaches that ultimately yield innovations and action.

Recently, we celebrated a $65 million award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to create an Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Center led by Ralph Baric, professor of epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, that will address emerging infectious diseases with pandemic potential through innovative, multidisciplinary research.

AViDD Center scientists will work towards early identification of new viral targets and will collaborate with industry partners to speed up research and development of antiviral drugs. This project is the result of a remarkable collaboration that started with a conversation between three colleagues from three different departments: Ralph Baric from the Gillings School, along with Mark Heise, professor of genetics, and Nat Moorman, associate professor of microbiology and immunology, from the UNC School of Medicine – who happened to be chatting in the Burnett-Womack building on campus.

The group had been working together as part of a UNC Creativity Hub winning proposal, the ID3@UNC Hub (Infectious Disease Drug Discovery Program at UNC), focused on developing broad-spectrum antivirals for virus families including coronaviruses. The team’s cutting-edge proposal was awarded seed funding through the OVCR’s Creativity Hubs Program and the Eshelman Institute for Innovation in 2019 – prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ID3@UNC Creativity Hub brought in Ken Pearce from the Center for Integrative Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery and Tim Willson from the Structural Genomics Consortium.

When COVID-19 emerged, Heise, Baric and Moorman realized that there were no existing therapeutics to treat and prevent disease. They decided something had to be done to make sure we would be better prepared when the inevitable next pandemic arrives. Together they co-founded the Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Development Initiative (READDI), a non-profit public-private partnership whose mission is to develop broad spectrum antiviral drugs for pandemic virus families. John Bamforth, director of the Eshelman Institute for Innovation, joined the group as READDI’s executive director.

Since its inception, READDI has received ongoing support from the Eshelman Innovation Institute, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, and multiple UNC schools and departments. In May of 2020, READDI received support from the NC Collaboratory as part of the North Carolina General Assembly (NCGA) appropriating $29 million for COVID-19 research projects. These funds were critical in catalyzing the project and propelling it to have enormous impact on the world’s efforts to combat SARS-CoV-2 by developing broadly acting, universal coronavirus antiviral drugs.

In early November 2021, the team drew on regional collaborations to expand even more to include Duke University, North Carolina Central University, North Carolina State University, and RTI International and successfully competed for $5 million in funding from RTI’s Forethought Research Collaboration Challenge. Their winning proposal tapped local partners to accelerate the production of new antiviral drugs, capitalizing on unique regional strengths and deep partnerships and collaborations.

On November 18, 2021, READDI was the recipient of $18 million in state appropriations for further expansion as a unique global public-private partnership, bringing together leaders from industry, government, philanthropic organizations, and academic research institutions to accelerate the development of new antiviral drugs.

Today, the team is poised to make significant advances in small molecule antivirals through their new AViDD Center, a federal grant that comes from the American Rescue Plan passed by Congress in 2021 and is administered through a collaboration with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to support the creation of the nine AViDD Centers for “pathogens of pandemic concern.”

Carolina’s low stone walls allowed our researchers to cross-pollinate disciplines and approaches across departments, regional, and global institutions to address one of the greatest global challenges of our time. There are few such places in the world where scientists work side-by-side across the full spectrum of translational science: viral genetics, clinical and population studies, and drug development.

The magic of having this type of crosstalk is rare. As you can see from READDI, itʼs also incredibly productive and impactful, allowing necessary progress from preclinical, basic science to clinical trials, and even further to develop therapies at an accelerated pace. There are infinite possibilities that can grow from chance conversations on our collaborative campus.

We are so incredibly grateful for generous contributions from the NCGA, the fast-paced work of the NC Collaboratory, and the innovative support provided by RTI, which fostered multiple discoveries that formed the foundation of READDI. This critical initial funding was instrumental in securing the new multimillion-dollar grant from NIAID which will empower READDI to reduce gaps in the availability of antiviral drugs and speed the delivery of lifesaving tools when needed most. The READDI public-private partnership is a perfect example of how our state and our region have been able to succeed in collaboration to have true and deep impact on the world.

Permalink: A Triumph of Many

Earlier:

By Penny Gordon-Larsen, May 5, 2022

As I enter my third month of serving as interim vice chancellor for research, I am increasingly aware of important topics that I know would be beneficial to share with the wider research community at Carolina. My intention for this monthly blog will be to share that information with you.

One of the best parts of this role is getting to work alongside people who not only do incredible things, but also support others in their pursuit of new discoveries and knowledge. One such person is Kelly Dockham, who oversees federal relations for the university. As many of you may already know, in March President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2022 (“Omnibus Bill”) into law, which will fund federal agencies and programs through September 30. Kelly and her team quickly pulled together a list of the exciting opportunities for the university included in the plan, and I’d like to share some of those with you. You can find a more comprehensive list in the Office of Federal Affairs’ March DC Download newsletter.

Some elements of the bill that particularly relate to our research strengths include:

  • $8.84 billion for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a 4% increase over FY21. This is the largest increase to NSF in 12 years, including a new directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships focused on key areas, such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and climate science.
  • $599.48 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a 5.1% increase over FY21.
  • $24 billion for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an increase of $770 million over FY21.
  • $49 billion for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), including $45.129 billion for NIH’s base funding, an increase of $275 million above FY22 level, with an increase in no less than 3.4% for each institute and center to support a wide range of biomedical and behavioral research.
  • $1 billion to establish ARPA-H within the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Secretary to accelerate the pace of scientific breakthroughs for diseases such as ALS, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, and cancer; this still requires congressional authorization.
  • $8.5 billion for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increase of $582 million over FY21.
  • $8.9 billion for the Health Resources and Services Administration, an increase of $1.4 billion over FY21.
  • $350 million for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an increase of $12 million over FY21.
  • $7.457 billion for the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, a 6% increase over FY21.
  • $450 million for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy, a 5% increase over FY21.
  • $180 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities, a 7.5% increase over FY21.
  • $180 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, a 7.5% increase over FY21.
  • And finally, $4 million for expanding research out of UNC’s Matthew Gfeller Center to assess brain health among military service members, which our own Office of Federal Affairs helped successfully advocate for.

In a separate action, on March 28, President Biden put forward his FY23 budget request to Congress that highlights his administration’s top policy and funding priorities for each federal agency. Time will tell as to the outcome of the Presidential Budget Request as Congress will ultimately decide the funding levels for the year. For additional details regarding Biden’s FY23 request, you can review the Office of Federal Affairs April 1 DC Download newsletter.

I am grateful for the increased financial backing provided by Congress in the recently passed omnibus legislation. This bipartisan funding bill provides significant investment in research that touches all parts of our campus. These federal investments in scientific research will provide us significant opportunities to capitalize on our strengths and bolster the strategic research priorities within Carolina Next’s Discover initiative. It will be wonderful to build upon our collaborative research environment and identify new partnerships as we respond to these new research opportunities. And, as always, it will be exciting to see what our researchers compete, and receive awards, for in response. Even more exciting will be watching these opportunities be conveyed into experiences for our students, continued support for all research on campus, and direct impact for our state and global “heel”print!

For more information on federal funding opportunities, please visit UNC Research’s funding resources page. You can also visit our website for internal funding opportunities and even more resources for researchers.

Permalink: Federal Funding Opportunities Look Promising