Crowdsourced Covid Antiviral Project Gets $11 Million in Funding
(Bloomberg) -- A crowdsourced effort to design a Covid-19 pill won 8 million pounds ($11 million) in funding from the Wellcome Trust, a significant boost for a project that aims to make a low-cost antiviral broadly available.
The project, called Covid Moonshot, started with locked-down scientists around the world sharing data and ideas online in March 2020. Some 250 people eventually submitted more than 4,500 potential molecular designs intended to block the virus’s main protease -- the key protein that helps it replicate.
The Wellcome funding will help pay for the expensive last step of research needed to bring the project into human clinical trials.
The open-source effort is the opposite of the way high-profile drug research usually happens. And unlike previous efforts to do open drug discovery, the project also moved quickly, organizers said.
“It is a way of working that none of us realized was possible,” Frank von Delft, professor of structural chemical biology at the University of Oxford and one of the leaders of the project, wrote in Nature, calling it “an express train on tracks we have had to lay down as we go.”
The effort is unlikely to beat Big Pharma to the punch on a Covid pill. Pfizer Inc. is already in late-stage trials on an oral antiviral, and has said that if its studies succeed, it will aim to seek emergency-use authorization in the fourth quarter. The Moonshot group wants to have a compound that can be tested on people by next year. That still would be in plenty of time for a cheap antiviral to be useful, particularly in low-income countries with less access to vaccines.
The non-profit Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative is taking the lead in coordinating the project.
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