Nutley scientists team up to discover new drugs in fight against viruses

NUTLEY, NJ — A unique collaborative enterprise of academic and pharmaceutical experts in New York City and Northern New Jersey have formed a regional drug accelerator to address the urgent need to develop novel antiviral treatments for SARS-CoV-2, its variants, and other coronaviruses and pandemic viruses, as well as future viral threats.

The Metropolitan AntiViral Drug Accelerator, or MAVDA, will be funded by a three-year, $65,141,731 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern program. MAVDA combines world-class virologists and academic drug finders from Rockefeller University, Columbia University and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City; the Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation in Nutley; and Rutgers University, along with proven antiviral drug developers Merck, the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute and Aligos Therapeutics.

MAVDA’s mission will be to discover, optimize and test innovative small molecule antiviral drugs to target coronaviruses, emphasizing SARS-CoV-2, and one or more select RNA viruses with pandemic potential. The goal is to rapidly develop drugs that can be given orally and in an outpatient setting in the near future. 

The overall program will be co-led by drug discovery expert David Perlin at the Hackensack Meridian CDI and Rockefeller University virologist and Nobel laureate Charles Rice. 

“This public-private partnership is how science can prepare for the next phase of SARS-CoV-2, as well as other current and new viral threats,” said Perlin, the chief scientific officer and senior vice president of the CDI, and also a professor at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine. “Vaccines were a terrific breakthrough to help stem COVID-19 after the initial spread, but as we have learned with COVID-19 and other pandemic diseases, vaccines alone are insufficient. We need effective drugs that can be used early and distributed widely to diverse populations around the world.”

“We need to think differently,” said Rice, the Maurice R. and Corinne P. Greenberg Professor in Virology and head of the Laboratory of Virology and Infectious Disease at Rockefeller University, who is the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. “Bringing all this experience and expertise into the same program, and having everyone ‘pull’ in the same direction, can produce some great results.”

The goal of this project is to take what the scientists discover on the academic side, and rapidly translate it using the capabilities of the pharmaceutical companies. 

“We are excited at the breadth of this project, and the huge difference it could make,” Perlin said. “For a global health challenge like COVID-19, we need to think bigger — and differently. We embrace the challenge.”