DDU part of expanding international effort against COVID-19

The Drug Discovery Unit based at the School of life Sciences, University of Dundee, is working with partners around the world as part of an expanding effort to rapidly repurpose existing medicines against COVID-19. The international partnership is led by the Calibr the drug discovery arm of Scripps Research. It utilises a library (ReFRAME) of over 13,000 compounds which have already reached clinical testing, or have extensive pre-clinical testing, demonstrating a good safety profile. The data that already exists on these drugs allows the compounds to be rapidly screened and advanced into a patient setting, without many of the steps typically required before new drugs can reach that stage.

“COVID-19 is an unprecedented public health crisis that will only be brought fully under control by effective medical therapies,” said Peter Schultz, PhD, president and CEO of Scripps Research. “Repurposing drugs that have already been approved for use in humans, or compounds for which we have ample safety data, offers the most rapid path to finding an antiviral drug or drug combination that is effective against COVID-19.”


Prof David Gray sits at his desk examining a model of a compound. © Sophie Gerrard
Prof David Gray

Professor David Gray, Head of Biology and Professor of Translational Biology at the DDU, is part of the international collaboration. Professor Gray said, “This is an excellent example of the international research community coming together quickly to try and find drugs that could be rapidly developed for use against COVID-19. It is the combination of expertise from around the world that will give us our best chance of finding drugs that can be used to successfully treat or control COVID-19.”


Arnab Chatterjee, vice president of medicinal chemistry at Calibr, says the power of the ReFRAME drug collection is how it enables Calibr to quickly partner with leading research teams to develop precise and rapid screens against a wide range of diseases. “In the case of COVID-19, we can leverage this important resource, along with Calibr’s expertise in drug development and discovery, to collaborate with some of the world’s leading virology labs and quickly identify potential medicines,” said Chatterjee. “While the results are still preliminary and need to be confirmed, we have already identified a number of compounds that show varying degrees of activity against the virus.”

ReFRAME was established by Calibr in 2018 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to tackle areas of urgent unmet medical need, especially neglected tropical diseases. It is highlighted in the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Together, Calibr and the Gates Foundation are working to establish collaborations with leading pharma companies to further augment ReFRAME’s collection of antiviral compounds for future pandemic response.