By Kali Kotoski, Midwest AViDD Center Communications Director
Over 100 scientists participated in the Midwest Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Center’s second in-person workshop at the Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology in Jupiter, Florida, on March 30 and 31.
The Midwest AViDD Center is among the nine centers for the Pathogens of Pandemic Concern program funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). Headquartered at the University of Minnesota Medical School, the Midwest AViDD Center involves 16 world-class institutions across the United States and Singapore.
The meeting was led by Midwest AViDD Co-Directors Dr. Reuben Harris, a professor and Chair of biochemistry and structural biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and Dr. Fang Li, a professor and Endowed Chair in the Department of Pharmacology and the Director of the Center for Coronavirus Research (CCR) at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
Investigators shared updates on the five research projects and the five cores devoted to developing new drugs to protect against SARS-CoV-2, Lassa fever, Ebola and the Zika virus. That included small molecule and nanobody entry inhibitors, protease, nuclease and helicase inhibitors. The goal of the workshop was to help researchers get useful feedback to help them reach the Center’s goal of developing orally administered antivirals.
The workshop speakers included Ming Luo (GSU), Lijun Rong (UIC), Lanying Du (GSU), Nicole Kennedy (UF Scripps), Kristin Lyles (GSU), Michael Farzan (HMS), Stanley Perlman (U-Iowa), Bin Liu (UMN), Damian Young (BCM), Ryan Langlois (UMN), Yuka Otsuka (UF Scripps), Arad Moghadasi (UMN), Dahai Luo (NTU Singapore), Nicholas Moeller (UMN), Yuying Liang (UMN), Yang Yang (Iowa State), Ryan Abdella (UMN), Timothy Spicer (UF Scripps), Thomas Bannister (UF Scripps), Louis Scampavia (UF Scripps), Kevin Raney (UAMS), Donghoon Chung (UofL) and Teresa Head-Gordon (UC Berkeley).
In addition, several candidates for Developmental Research Projects and Mentored Projects gave quick five-minute pitches on their proposed novel strategies to support the Midwest AViDD’s research.
The cores gave updates on drug discovery and development, medicinal chemistry, structural and computational virology, and systems for antiviral testing.
The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology hosted the workshop. The institute has been handling the lion's share of AViDD's High Throughput Screening (HTS) needs, which attendees saw in action as the robotic technology was finalizing a Lassa fever pseudovirus assay.
“Our robots can screen hundreds of thousands of biologically active compounds against a disease target in just a day or two,” said Timothy Spicer, Ph.D. “Whereas when I was doing it manually in the 1990s, the most that could be done was 30,000 in two months.”
The workshop also featured a poster competition with Yuka Otsuka (UF Scripps) chosen by the judges as having the best poster. Her poster, “Compendium of HTS of SARS-CoV-2 Targets to Prepare for the Next Pandemic,” earns her a paid trip to the fall workshop at the University of Minnesota.