As one of the world’s leading authorities on coronaviruses, Ralph Baric, Ph.D., William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Department of Epidemiology and the UNC School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is testing hundreds of existing compounds against COVID-19 for researchers and labs across the world — in search of the most effective therapeutics.
In addition, Baric and other UNC-Chapel Hill researchers, including Victor Garcia-Martinez, Ph.D., professor in the division of infectious diseases in the UNC School of Medicine, are developing research tools and animal models to validate the safety and efficacy of the most promising of these compounds. These tools and models greatly enhance UNC-Chapel Hill’s ability to lead in the development of effective therapeutics and vaccines for patients around the world.
Timothy Sheahan, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Ronald Swanstrom, Ph.D., Charles P. Postelle Jr. Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry in the UNC School of Medicine, are also working with Baric’s team to test the candidate therapeutic NHC/EIDD-2801. A preliminary report on this promising therapeutic was recently published online in Science Translational Medicine.
Sheahan examines the host-pathogen interface in order to discover new methods for viral control. For the past 12 years, Sheahan has been studying the molecular mechanisms of viral pathogenesis in hopes of discovering viral and/or host proteins to target for antiviral therapy. Sheahan works closely with Baric on coronavirus.
Amid all of the above, Baric and Richard Boucher, M.D., James C. Moeser Eminent Professor of Medicine and director of the Marsico Lung Institute, have created a colocated COVID-19 rapid response center in the Marsico Labs that draws as a resource from one of the largest, most robust lung tissue banks in the world. They have joined forces to identify target cells that initiate and amplify infection in pulmonary surfaces, identify and model the mode of transmission, and identify genetic factors that control susceptibility to infection. The team is also identifying biomarkers to describe risk for severe disease and as determinants of clinical benefit to serve as endpoints for clinical trials and to optimize delivery of novel compounds to the lung.