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Emory seeks corporate donations to fund human testing of pill to treat coronavirus

Coronavirus COVID-19 virus This image is a computer generated representation of COVID-19 virions (SARS-CoV-2) under electron microscope, according to the author. File/Credit: Felipe Esquivel Reed

By David Pendered

Emory University is requesting donations from Atlanta’s corporate community to fund research into a treatment for the coronavirus.

Coronavirus COVID-19 virus

This image is a computer generated representation of COVID-19 virions (SARS-CoV-2) under electron microscope, according to the author. Credit: Felipe Esquivel Reed

The treatment could be delivered as a pill, according to a document Emory released at a March 11 meeting. Emory has previously publicized its research into the treatment and thoughts that it could be effective against the new coronavirus.

In addition, Emory won last year a grant to develop a universal flu vaccine to use against virus strains, including those that could emerge into pandemic strains. In October 2019, the Nation al Institutes of Health awarded Emory and Mount Sinai a $70 million contract to develop a universal flu vaccine. The contract could be worth up to $132 million over seven years, Emory announced in a statement.

Requesting donations to conduct human trials on the coronavirus is an unusual step, Emory acknowledged in the statement titled: Call to Action: END THE CORNAVIRUS PANDEMIC NOW:

  • “We know that this is an unprecedented call to action, but these are extraordinary times, and we need you to partner with us to lead this cause. …
  • “Your organization’s contribution will enable DRIVE to accelerate the development of this treatment and make it available to those who need it, thereby helping stem the pandemic.”

On Tuesday, an Emory official named as the contact for potential gifts to support the research deferred comment to an individual described as being involved more directly with the project. No further responses were provided.

Emory described the treatment and research regarding coronavirus in a Feb. 3 statement that included this comment from George Painter, PhD, director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD) and CEO of DRIVE. Painter refers to EIDD-2801, a compound that has been shown to inhibit certain viruses:

  • “We have been planning to enter human clinical tests of EIDD-2801 for the treatment of influenza, and recognized that it has potential activity against the current novel coronavirus. Based on the drug’s broad-spectrum activity against viruses including influenza, Ebola and SARS-CoV/MERS-CoV, we believe it will be an excellent candidate.”

DRIVE, the organization Painter heads, is short for Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory. DRIVE serves as an “early stage biotechnology company” established to “efficiently translate dfiscovers to address viruses of global concern,” according to the statement. DRIVE was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2012, according to the Georgia Secretary of State.

The letter to potential funders outlined the treatment that is being researched, the affiliated funded by Emory that is conducting the research, and the limitations of existing funding:

  • “Now is the time for the Atlanta corporate community to come together and work toward a cure. We have the collective power to make a difference in developing a cure to treat this deadly virus. …
  • “Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE), a not-for-profit biotechnology company, has the most promising preclinical antiviral therapeutic for COVID-19. DRIVE’s treatment has been proven successful against coronaviruses in lab testing and is on the verge of human trials. DRIVE needs your help to get the novel treatment rapidly into human testing and approved.
  • “The DRIVE antiviral drug (designated EIDD-2801):
  1. “Can be taken as a pill, which is critical in containing a pandemic due to the ease of dissemination;
  2. “Works in preclinical testing against the coronavirus, flu, Ebola, and other emerging viruse;
  3. “Has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Science Translational Medicine.
  • “DRIVE was created with an initial investment of $1OM from Emory (money reinvested by Emory from its successes with drugs for HIV/AIDS). The DRIVE team has successfully developed two antivirals for hepatitis C and B, now licensed to industry for further development. The federal government has provided substantial support for DRIVE’s antiviral testing for influenza. However, this funding cannot be used on human testing for the coronavirus. …
  • “Please join Emory in our effort to stop the spread of COVID-19 and to develop a cure. Our community depends on the support and leadership of those of us who can make a difference.”



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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