University of Alberta receives funding to try and fight next pandemic

An Edmonton lab has received funding to tackle a complicated issue: finding treatments for the next pandemic.

Matthias Götte, virologist, professor, and chair of medical microbiology and immunology in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, along with his colleagues at the University of Alberta (U of A) are working with three newly created American research centres funded by the U.S. National Institute for Health (NaIH) to test different antiviral drugs against every single virus family.

“Nobody knows when we will have the next pandemic,” said Götte. “But everyone is quite certain we will have outbreaks in the future and potential pandemics.”

Götte adds the international team assembled by the NaIH is the “best of the best” in different scientific disciplines and marks a continuation of collaboration from lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.

While it’s impossible to know the exact virus that could lead to the next pandemic, the research will target virus families such as filoviruses (Ebola); picornaviruses (common cold); and flaviviruses (cause yellow and dengue fevers).

Pointing to COVID-19, there was limited research into antiviral treatments for coronavirus when the pandemic was declared. The goal of this research is to give scientists a head start.

Götte’s lab has expertise in viral polymerases, enzymes known as the ‘replication engine’ for viruses.

“If you target the polymerases with therapeutics, you prevent replication spread and transmission,” said Götte.

His lab has been building a bank of viral polymerases since 2015 and was instrumental in early publications relating to COVID-19 therapeutic remdesivir.

The research will bring $6 million to the U of A over the next five years.

Götte is optimistic the collective research on antivirals will lead to answers that will put humanity at an advantage whenever the next virus reaches a pandemic scale.

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