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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/W024497/2
Title: Developing broad-spectrum antivirals as a rapid response option for future global epidemics
Principal Investigator: Jones, Dr S
Other Investigators:
Bewley, Dr K R
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Department: School of Chemistry
Organisation: University of Birmingham
Scheme: Standard Research
Starts: 01 October 2023 Ends: 31 December 2025 Value (£): 611,120
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Drug Formulation & Delivery
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Healthcare
Related Grants:
Panel History:  
Summary on Grant Application Form
Every year the world health organisation (WHO) assembles a list of priority diseases that require urgent research and development. Each year this list is almost exclusively populated with some of the worlds deadliest viral infections, with each posing a significant public health risk due to their epidemic potential and their total (or insufficient) lack of counter measures. The list includes viruses such as Ebola, Crimean Congo Fever, Lassa Virus and Zika virus. Developing countermeasures against these viruses is extremely challenging and often tackled only one virus at a time. Developing virus specific counter measures is ultimately a short lived strategy as viruses rapidly mutate leading to resistant viral strains or ineffective vaccines.

As has become abundantly clear in recent months, our rapid global response to viral outbreaks is virtually non-existent resulting in unnecessary loss of life. When new viral infections are identified it takes too long to develop vaccines, virus specific antiviral drugs and detection systems and when they are eventually developed they are unable to be used for future outbreaks. This delay in development allows the infection to spread globally with potential for large numbers of deaths (even with relatively mild infections) and huge impact on the global economy.

If broad-spectrum antiviral drugs existed, equivalent to broad-spectrum antibiotics, viral infections could be contained quickly and/or their spread delayed to give researchers, policy makers and governments the much needed time to deploy other counter measures. Sadly however, no such broad-spectrum antivirals exist and our only current option is to deploy social measures such as closing boarders and self-isolation, which all have significant impacts on the economy.

Building on our experience in developing broad-spectrum antiviral nano- and sugar-based materials, we propose to use polymers to create broad-spectrum virucides (Polycides). These polycides would hold some significant advantages over both current and proposed methods of dealing with viral outbreaks. These broad-spectrum polycides would be stable for long periods of time so easily stored, easily deployed and cost effective to produce. These materials could be deployed around the globe, before a viral outbreak occurs, ready for use at the first signs of newly emerging viral outbreaks. Drastically altering our response to outbreaks from reactive to proactive.

We have produced generation 1 polymers to test our hypothesis which we have shown is not only possible but that our unoptimised materials are >5000 times more effective than any of our previous (optimised) broad-spectrum antivirals. They are also quicker to produce at larger scales (grams in hours rather than milli-grams in weeks) and use cheaper starting materials. It is of paramount importance that we explore further these extremely exciting results and look to develop a greater understanding and how these materials work.

Here we will design, synthesise and then conduct antiviral testing on a range of homo- and block co-polymers, using our preliminary results as a starting point. Through an iterative approach, we aim to identify not only the most potent broad-spectrum antivirals but to investigate their mechanism so as to determine their mode of action and inform the design of future iterations. By partnering with Public Health England these antivirals will be tested against several of the viruses on the WHOs priority diseases list, including Ebola, and surrogate viruses for Lassa fever, Crimean Congo Hemorrhagic fever and Nipah Virus.

By the end of this study non-toxic virucidal polymers will have been identified and for the first time a material with broad-spectrum efficacy against some of the worlds most deadly viruses will have been identified. This will lead the way for further studies and funding to develop these antivirals into a much needed antiviral treatment of the future
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Organisation Website: http://www.bham.ac.uk