Alabama researchers join global fight against COVID-19 disease

Alabama researchers join global fight against COVID-19 disease
Distinguished researchers and biotech companies in Alabama are contributing to the battle with COVID-19 coronavirus through both test development and drug development. (contributed)

Scientists and researchers in Alabama are engaged in the global effort to stem threats posed by the COVID-19 disease.

On Tuesday, Huntsville’s Diatherix announced that it has developed a highly sensitive and specific assay, or test, for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the COVID-19 respiratory infection.

COVID-19, a novel coronavirus, is posing an unprecedented threat to people around the world. Alabama scientists have joined the fight against the disease. (contributed)

Diatherix, on the Huntsville campus of the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology, also said its lab is prepared to evaluate respiratory specimens collected by healthcare providers for COVID-19.

Diatherix’s announcement comes as public health authorities across the U.S. step up testing to get a clearer picture of how the novel coronavirus is spreading across the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says around 4,000 cases have been reported in the U.S., with 36 confirmed in Alabama. More than 167,000 COVID-19 cases have been recorded globally, with 6,600 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

“Alabama’s scientists have long conducted world-class research in infectious disease protection and treatment, so it’s no surprise that they are deeply involved in the fight against COVID-19 disease,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The talents and capabilities of these Alabama researchers will benefit the overall global effort during this public health emergency.”

Vaccine testing

Birmingham-based Southern Research this month announced a partnership with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine.

Southern Research, which has considerable experience in infectious disease research, has long been a leader in the evaluation of vaccine candidates and possible therapeutics for emerging biological threats.

There are currently no vaccines to protect against COVID-19, which may cause serious complications and death.

Southern Research and Tonix said the research collaboration will develop and test a potential horsepox vaccine that expresses protein from the virus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 to protect against the disease.

“We look forward to this collaboration to advance a potential COVID-19 vaccine,” said Scott Goebel, a senior scientist in Southern Research’s Drug Development division and principal investigator of the project.

Dr. Richard Whitley is distinguished professor at UAB. (contributed)

Investigational drug

The University of Alabama at Birmingham, meanwhile, is home to the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, or AD3C, which focuses on developing treatments for four different virus families, including coronavirus.

AD3C research produced an investigational drug, remdesivir, that is being used to treat a few select patients in China and the U.S. who have contracted COVID-19. Read about remdesivir.

“This is a prime example of how the research we are conducting at UAB plays a critical role in treating patients on a global scale and our contribution of substantial scientific advances,” said Dr. Richard Whitley, distinguished professor at UAB and principal investigator on the research project.

Southern Research is also a partner in the AD3C.

New diagnostics

Birmingham-based BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company based at the Innovation Depot technology incubator, is also involved in the effort against COVID-19.

On Tuesday, BioGX announced that it had joined BD, a global medical technology company, to ask the FDA to authorize new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.

BioGX developed an assay to detect the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 for BD’s automated molecular diagnostic platform, which can analyze samples in two to three hours.

“The foundation of BioGX firmly stands on its team’s ability to step up and address such unmet needs with speed. Authorization to use our test would increase access across the U.S. to an automated, highly reliable SARS-CoV-2 test,” said Dr. Shazi Iqbal, chief executive officer of BioGX.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

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