Wistar Fights COVID-19
Coronavirus Discovery Fund
The Wistar Institute has a rich history of utilizing groundbreaking science to respond to global epidemics. Our scientists have created vaccines that have saved millions of lives, stopping the rubella epidemic, protecting people and wildlife against rabies and preventing deaths related to rotavirus in children. As a world leader, researching and developing new effective technologies against rapidly emerging infectious diseases, Wistar has taken on the fight against COVID-19 and launched the Wistar Coronavirus Discovery Fund to catalyze our research efforts in this time of need.
The goals of the Wistar Coronavirus Discovery Fund are to:
- Support Wistar’s advancements in COVID-19 diagnostic, prophylactic and therapeutics research
- Provide resources for the translation of COVID-19 research discoveries into new treatments in the shortest amount of time
Your support will enable our scientists to advance their discoveries faster and enhance our ability to create effective solutions.
Click on the list below to read more about the different strategies our researchers are tackling, what the next steps are and how your contribution will help us get there.
Your gift of any size is part of the fuel that drives our discoveries. Below are examples of areas you can support to help our scientists fight COVID-19.
Based on previous work to create vaccines during outbreak situations for Ebola, MERS and Zika, Dr. David Weiner and his team have now leveraged their synthetic DNA technology to rapidly design and test a DNA vaccine for COVID-19 with the goal of advancing a vaccine for health care professionals and first-line responders.
COVID-19 possesses a receptor (like many viruses) that is a vulnerable target for neutralizing antibodies. Dr. Dan Kulp and his team demonstrated that certain regions of the receptor for influenza and HIV could be engineered onto various self-assembling nanoparticle scaffolds, with one promising candidate being prepped for a phase 1 clinical trial. Much-needed funding will help translate these technologies to SARS-CoV-2. DNA delivery of nanoparticles enables the team to rapidly move into the clinic. Learn More
For coronaviruses to enter host cells, fusion of the virus with the cell membrane must take place. This process is regulated by a specific viral protein. Dr. Dan Kulp and his team have engineered a nanoparticle vaccine — consisting of extremely small particles — that targets this protein and creates robust antibody responses in mice. The lab is now ready to begin testing the vaccine in large animals before translating into the clinic. Learn More
The team lead by Dr. Hildegund Ertl is developing a COVID-19 vaccine based on safe viral delivery technologies that are incapable of replicating in the body and induce both virus-neutralizing antibodies and specific T cell responses. This approach has been successfully tested by the team against other infectious diseases. Learn More
(A) Post-exposure prophylaxis against COVID-19. Monoclonal antibodies, due to high specificity (mAb) against SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein (S) present on the surface of virus particle, have the potential to block virus infection. However, several factors such as high treatment costs, laborious manufacturing processes and requirements for repeated high-dose administrations have led to limited dissemination of this platform. To overcome this, the Muthumani Lab is currently working on the development of therapeutic antibody based approach. The novelty of this strategy is that DNA directs the production of mAb in vivo upon administration which can then interfere with SARS-CoV-2 providing rapid protection against infection. The in vivo antibody production through, DMAbs addresses the limitations of bioprocessed mAb.
(B) Exploiting receptors to block viral entry. During viral infection the first challenge that viruses have to overcome is gaining access to the intracellular compartment. Infection process starts when the virus contacts the surface of the host cell with a complex series of events including, binding to appropriate receptors, signaling, internalization, and delivery of the genetic information. Analysis of the receptor binding motif (RBM) in the SARS-CoV-2 S protein, has been found to be similar to that of SARS-CoV, a related virus responsible for pandemic in 2002, SARS-CoV-2 uses the Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE-2) as the receptor for cell entry. Hence, ACE-2 is amenable for intervention through the use mAbs.
Viruses enter cells through receptors. The lab of Dr. Dan Kulp can engineer decoy proteins that mimic the coronavirus receptor to trick it into binding to the decoy instead of the real receptor on the cells, thus stopping infection. One of these prototype decoys has shown promise in vitro and next step is animal testing. The lab has set up a rapid therapeutic platform using computer simulations and advanced delivery for swift clinical translation.
Severe cases of COVID-19 are associated with increases in lung inflammation and production of inflammatory molecules in response to viral infection. Dr. Ami Patel is looking into strategies to reduce these responses to improve patient outcome.
Drs. Luis Montaner and Joseph Salvino have discovered new small molecules that amplify human natural antiviral responses without inducing greater inflammation damage in the lung. This therapeutic booster could be used alone at onset of symptoms or in combination with other antiviral drugs. Learn More
All cells and viruses have a diverse collection of sugar molecules that reside on their surfaces and play critical roles in regulating how a virus infects a cell and how the immune response recognizes that infection. The team led by Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Mohsen is gaining deeper understanding of these interactions to accelerate the path towards the development of vaccines and therapies.
Coronavirus research needs a new arsenal of scientific tools and reagents. Dr. Ami Patel and team are developing new assays to support vaccine and immunotherapy evaluation, including additional approaches to study immune responses, functional activity and interactions in vivo.
Simultaneous treatment with several different antibodies can improve effectiveness and provide better protection against the virus. Dr. Dan Kulp and his lab have developed technology to combine up to 60 different antibodies into a single therapeutic. Support for this project will allow the lab to synthesize and test antibody combinations to find the most effective ones.
SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the coronavirus family of RNA viruses. The RNA of coronaviruses can be targeted and destroyed by small molecules, including some FDA-approved drugs. These drugs have not yet been tested for activity against Covid-19. Dr. Paul Lieberman and his lab are working to identify FDA-approved drugs that can directly attack the SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA that is essential for infection and disease.
Building on their successful program that is in clinical trials to treat diseases caused by a different virus, Drs. Paul Lieberman and Troy Messick are working on new small molecule inhibitors of a critical viral protein to block the production of SARS-CoV-2 virus. This new therapy could stop the virus before patients become severely ill. They are also developing functional tools to further our understanding of the virus pathology and test the effectiveness of therapies or vaccines.
Much of the lethality associated with severe COVID-19 cases can be attributed to an excessive immune reaction and uncontrolled inflammatory response, involving production and release of a large amount of inflammatory cytokines. This complication, known as cytokine storm, causes respiratory failure and multi-organ damage in COVID-19 patients, and is believed to be related to the Kawasaki-like disease found in some children with COVID-19. The Tian lab is developing novel therapeutics to mitigate cytokine storms by controlling production and metabolism of a wide variety of genes that encode inflammatory cytokines.
Wistar houses a biosafety level 3 (BSL-3) facility that provides the highest safety environment for handling airborne infectious diseases like coronaviruses. The Fund will help support the high cost of this sophisticated resource and the acquisition of equipment and reagents needed for COVID-19 research.
Wistar scientists are working around the clock in a relentless pursuit of improved tests, treatments, and a vaccine to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. People around the world are depending on us and we are depending on YOU. Please contribute to our scientists’ tireless work to conquer infectious disease.
For more information on how to contribute to the Wistar Coronavirus Discovery Fund, or if you wish to discuss other opportunities to make a gift, please contact our Wistar Development team: