Jeffrey Glenn receives $69 million to start antiviral drug-discovery center at Stanford

Stanford Medicine’s SyneRx will develop drugs to fight viral pathogens with high pandemic potential, including the one that causes COVID-19.

- By Bruce Goldman

Jeffrey Glenn

The National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded Jeffrey Glenn, MD, PhD, professor of hepatology and gastroenterology and of microbiology and immunology, $69 million to establish an antiviral drug-discovery hub at Stanford Medicine.

Designated SyneRx, the new Stanford center that Glenn will direct is one of nine Antiviral Drug Discovery Centers for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern that are receiving a total of $577 million in funding from the institute. SyneRx is the only AViDD center to be led by a physician-scientist.

Researchers at the AViDD centers will develop candidate COVID-19 antiviral drugs, especially those that can be taken by outpatients, as well as drugs targeting other viral pathogens suspected to have a strong potential to generate a pandemic. They will focus exclusively on so-called direct-acting antivirals. These are drugs that directly target the virus, rather than modulate our immune systems or temporarily disable a protein that a virus needs to infect cells or replicate within them.

The institute has provided SyneRx with $69 million for the first three years, funding that can support SyneRx’s work up to the beginning of clinical testing. The intent is to fund two additional years’ worth of awards, if possible, and to make available additional funds to support clinical trials of the most promising drug candidates.

“This is an unprecedented amount of funding, and it will allow us to move forward in ways that are not traditionally possible in academia,” Glenn said. “I believe that Stanford’s environment is uniquely positioned to enable the center to achieve its goals.”

More than 60 faculty members and external consultants, plus about 50 students, postdoctoral researchers and other staff, will be affiliated with the center, Glenn said. SyneRx’s plan is to, over the next five years, advance five molecules to the stage at which they can obtain FDA approval to begin clinical testing, he said.

“The ultimate goal is for the top molecules we identify to be spun off to industry, which can take them all the way to approval and stockpiling so they’re available for use in future pandemics,” said Glenn, the Joseph D. Grant Professor II.

Glenn’s lab has long been focused on developing new types of antiviral drugs for treating hepatitis and respiratory illnesses such as influenza and the common cold.

Although Glenn’s lab will serve as the base of a substantial set of SyneRx’s operations for the time being, the center will integrate the work of researchers across Stanford’s campus, around the country and throughout the world.

“Pandemics are global, and so are we,” Glenn said.

About Stanford Medicine

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