$65M grant funds joint academic-pharma drug accelerator

Dawn Furnas//June 1, 2022

$65M grant funds joint academic-pharma drug accelerator

Dawn Furnas//June 1, 2022

Experts from northern New Jersey, New York City and California are joining forces to research and produce antiviral treatments for SARS-CoV-2, its variants, other coronaviruses and pandemic viruses, as well as future viral threats, according to a May 31 announcement from Hackensack Meridian Health.

The new Metropolitan AntiViral Drug Accelerator, or MAVDA, will be funded by a three-year, $65,141,731 grant from the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern program.

The team will be made up of Garden State academic and pharmaceutical experts from Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI) in Nutley, Rutgers University, and Merck in Rahway.

The New York contributors will come from Rockefeller University, Columbia University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute. Aligos Therapeutics, based in California, will participate as well.

According to the announcement, “MAVDA’s mission will be to discover, optimize and test innovative small molecule antiviral drugs to target coronaviruses (CoVs), emphasizing SARS-CoV-2, and one or more select RNA viruses with pandemic potential. The goal is to rapidly develop drugs which can be given orally, and in an outpatient setting, in the near future.”


Metropolitan Antiviral Drug Accelerator
The Hackensack Meridian Center for Discovery and Innovation announced the formation of the Metropolitan Antiviral Drug Accelerator (MAVDA), funded with a $65 million NIH grant, on May 31. MAVDA’s mission is to discover and develop new drugs for the COVID-19 virus and other viral threats. Pictured from left: Ihor Sawczuk, president of Academics, Research and Innovation at HMH; Gail Gordon, HMH board of trustees; Robert Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health; U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Nadine Arslanian; David Perlin, chief scientific officer, CDI; U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J.; and state Sen. Andrew Zwicker, D-16th District. – HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH


Participants said the key to tackling a future pandemic is the cooperation of academic researchers and commercial firms. The goal is to take what the academic scientists discover and then turn that over to the pharmaceutical companies to develop.

“This public-private partnership is how science can prepare for the next phase of SARS-CoV-2 — as well as other current and new viral threats,” David Perlin – CDI chief scientific officer and senior vice president and professor at the Hackensack Meridian School of Medicine – said in a statement. “Vaccines were a terrific breakthrough to help stem COVID-19 after the initial spread — but as we have learned with COVID-19 and other pandemic diseases, vaccines alone are insufficient. We need effective drugs that can be used early and distributed widely to diverse populations around the world.”

In addition to Perlin, MAVDA will be co-led by Rockefeller University virologist Charles Rice. They will be joined by virologists David Ho and Stephen Goff, both from Columbia; drug discovery experts Jingyue Ju (Columbia) and Tom Tuschl (Rockefeller); structural biologists Lawrence Shapiro (Columbia) and Dinshaw Patel (MSK); and medicinal chemistry, pharmacology and drug screening experts James Balkovec (CDI), Joel Freundlich (Rutgers), Veronique Dartois (CDI), and Fraser Glickman (Rockefeller).

“We need to think differently,” added Rice, who is the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. “Bringing all this experience and expertise into the same program, and having everyone ‘pull’ in the same direction, can produce some great results.”

Perlin agreed, adding, “We are excited at the breadth of this project, and the huge difference it could make. For a global health challenge like COVID-19, we need to think bigger – and differently. We embrace the challenge.”