Platform Approaches Pivot to COVID-19 Efforts

By developing new approaches, technologies, resources and methods that can be applied to multiple disciplines or diseases, NCATS empowers the entire biomedical research community to conduct translation more efficiently. Learn more about some of the NCATS-supported projects that have quickly pivoted to address COVID-19 and the virus that causes it.

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Assay and Compound Libraries

NCATS biologist Michele Ceribelli, Ph.D., prepares samples for a high-throughput flow cytometry analysis in a 384 well plate. (Daniel Soñé Photography, LLC)

NCATS biologist Michele Ceribelli, Ph.D., prepares samples for a high-throughput flow cytometry analysis in a 384 well plate. (Daniel Soñé Photography, LLC)

It can take scientists more than a decade to develop a promising compound into an approved drug for patients. Repurposing existing drugs for new uses can potentially speed up the drug development process. NCATS’ drug repurposing programs support research at NIH and beyond to improve drug repurposing, including for projects focused on COVID-19. Scientists can collaborate with NCATS to use its drug repurposing resources, including assay and compound libraries.

  • A team including researchers at NCATS and Cornell University used NCATS’ pharmaceutical collection to rapidly test each of its 2,678 approved or investigational compounds at multiple concentrations to identify those that inhibit SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV pseudotyped particles from entering mammalian cells. (Pseudotyped particles have viral envelope proteins but no viral genome and thus are unable to replicate.) The compounds with inhibitory action were then tested in a live SARS-CoV-2 cell infection assay. Of the six compounds that showed potential effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2 infection, the most potent included the natural compound cepharathine, the breast cancer drug abemaciclib, and the lung cancer drug osimertinib. Learn more about this drug-repurposing research in the journal ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science.
  • NCATS scientists and their collaborators at the Southern Research Institute, Naval Research Laboratory and Scripps Research Institute used an NCATS compound library to identify several compounds and drugs that inhibited a cell recycling process called autophagy and could protect cells against SARS-CoV-2. Through a series of tests, the researchers found the compounds also blocked endocytosis, a process that viruses use to infect cells. Reporting their results in ACS Infectious Diseases, the investigators suggested such inhibitors could someday be part of an anti-SARS-CoV-2 drug cocktail.

Empowering Rapid Data Sharing

As soon as COVID-19 was identified, researchers all over the world — including at NCATS — started looking for drugs that could attack the virus in different ways. They developed assays, or tests, to screen existing drugs for their therapeutic potential. To enable the community to speed the worldwide search for possible therapies, NCATS launched the OpenData Portal with information on more than 10,000 compounds screened in its SARS-CoV-2–related assays. Data sets and the assay protocols used to generate them are posted as the screens are completed. The screening data, which include both positive and negative results, can be viewed, sorted, searched and exported from the Portal website. The website also includes detailed information on drug targets and mechanisms of drug action. This is the first time any organization has made this kind of drug repurposing information publicly available. Visit the OpenData Portal.

Tissue Chips to Test the Safety and Efficacy of Antiviral Therapies

Approximately 30 percent of promising medications fail in human clinical trials because they are determined to be toxic despite promising preclinical studies in animal and cell models. Tissue chips — small, 3D bioengineered devices that model human organs — could improve drug testing and development by allowing scientists to predict more accurately how safe and effective drugs are before they are tested in people. Researchers are investigating whether tissue chips could help speed up the development of COVID-19 treatments. For example, an NCATS-supported research team that developed a lung-on-a-chip to study influenza infection and its use for drug screening has been able to rapidly pivot to testing existing antiviral therapies for their potential to treat COVID-19.
Learn more about this research.

To help address COVID-19, GoDx, Inc., an NCATS SBIR-supported company, will test and clinically validate a rapid, instrument-free novel coronavirus test that builds on its NCATS-funded technology. (Xiao Jiang, GoDx, Inc.)

Rapid, instrument-free coronavirus test. (Xiao Jiang, GoDx, Inc.)

Small Businesses’ Translational Technologies

NCATS supports small business programs that serve as an engine for creating new approaches for developing therapeutics and diagnostics. NCATS-funded small businesses often develop translational technologies that could have broad applications. For instance, NCATS-funded GoDiagnostics (GoDx) developed a paper-based test for rapidly detecting diarrheal disease and now, with additional funding, it is adapting its technology platform for COVID-19. GoDx is developing a quick, simple and inexpensive approach that could detect the novel coronavirus from nasopharyngeal or saliva samples in less than 30 minutes. The test requires no instruments, so it could be used in a variety of settings. GoDx has submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization.
Read more about GoDx’s platform technology.

Chang Hee Kim, Ph.D., CEO of GoDx, describes the paper-based COVID-19 detection test being developed and the role of translational science in fighting COVID-19.

See more stories from the I Am Translational Science video series.

Innovating Solutions to Speed Diagnostics and Treatments

The NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program exists to support a network of academic research institutions in their development of innovative solutions, including diagnostics and treatments, and CTSA Program hub institutions have quickly harnessed their expertise and resources to address this public health emergency. The University of Rochester CTSA Program hub is one example. It is rapidly adapting previous research to develop a potential diagnostic test that would require just a few drops of blood to detect the fast-spreading COVID-19 virus. The current research grew out of a past project in which a finger-stick test was developed that can detect immunity to more than 50 strains of the flu from just a few drops of blood.
Read more about this research.

Learn more about NCATS’ translational approach to addressing COVID-19: