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Harvard, AbbVie Announce $30 Million Research Alliance to Combat Viral Diseases

By Virginia L. Ma, Crimson Staff Writer

{image id=1344501 size=large byline=true caption="Harvard Medical School and biopharmaceutical company AbbVie will launch a $30 million research alliance to combat viral infections, like the novel coronavirus tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the study and development of new therapies.}

Harvard Medical School and biopharmaceutical company AbbVie will launch a $30 million research alliance to combat viral infections, like the novel coronavirus tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, through the study and development of new therapies, the University announced Tuesday.

The partnership will focus on the integration of fundamental biology into preclinical and clinical development of treatment for viral diseases. In addition to providing $30 million in funding over three years, AbbVie will also offer other forms of scientific support, including scientists, facilities, and expertise.

The announcement comes as the United States and many other parts of the world continue to experience high volumes of COVID-19 cases. The collaboration will aim to develop treatments with an eye toward both the COVID-19 and future pandemics.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard Medical School has led several other large-scale research efforts, including a $115 million five year partnership with Chinese researchers.

“Harvard Medical School, as the nucleus of an ecosystem of fundamental discovery and therapeutic translation, is uniquely positioned to propel this transformative research alongside allies like AbbVie,” Medical School Dean George Q. Daley said in a press release announcing the effort.

Daley said that the “cataclysmic nature” of the COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a reminder of the importance of preparing for public health crises, a key aim of the research alliance.

Like Daley, AbbVie Vice Chairman and President Michael Severino also said advance research will be key for addressing future outbreaks.

“There is much to learn about viral diseases and the best way to treat them,” Severino said in the release. “By harnessing the power of collaboration, we can develop new therapeutics sooner to ensure the world is better prepared for future potential outbreaks.”

The collaboration will cover five subjects: immunity and immunopathology, host targeting for antiviral therapies, antibody therapeutics, small molecules, and translational development. A Medical School faculty member and a senior scientist at AbbVie will co-lead programs in each area.

Harvard Medical School Executive Director of Therapeutics Translation Mark N. Namchuk, who will head the small molecules program focusing on discovery and development of drugs preventing replication, said in an interview that the partnership will take advantage of the complementary strengths of academia and industry.

“I think one thing [AbbVie] can bring to the table is the ability to take initial discoveries and translate them towards a therapeutic much more quickly than we could do in an academic setting,” Namchuk said. “What we can bring to the floor is the science and pushing on how well we understand how the virus works, pushing on different ways we can think about the discovery of new antivirals.”

Harvard Medical School Biochemistry and Systems Biology Professor Pamela A. Silver, who will lead the antiviral therapy program, wrote in an email that the partnership also provides Medical School students and trainees exposure to “real world drug development.”

“We gain from their experience with early drug discovery and the in house platforms for accelerating discovery,” Silver wrote. “Success would be identifying leads to drugs or processes that could be used to treat COVID.”

The fifth working area, translational development, will allow the researchers to validate, test, and optimize promising discoveries in Harvard-affiliated hospitals, moving towards clinical application.

Namchuk said the team hopes to achieve an “extraordinary level of collaboration.” He said they hope to “see if we can get more strengths from working together than just parsing the pieces off into individual labs.”

—Staff writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at virginia.ma@thecrimson.com.

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HealthResearchHarvard Medical SchoolCoronavirusCoronavirus Feature