Israeli scientists to participate in int’l drive to find COVID pills

The Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot will participate in a global drive to develop safe, globally accessible, affordable and easily-manufactured antiviral drugs against COVID-19 and future viral pandemics.

The drive will be spearheaded by an initiative called “The COVID Moonshot,” a non-profit, open-science consortium of scientists from around the world which started as a spontaneous virtual collaboration in March 2020, in which scientists from the Weizmann Institute are members.

Moonshot’s over 150 scientists crowdsource ideas for molecular compounds, model them and evaluate them in-vitro against the virus. Their goal is to come up with a non-profit oral treatment for COVID-19 and related viral pandemics, especially for low- and middle-income countries.

‘If drug discovery efforts that were launched during the 2003 SARS epidemic had persevered and had
been funded to completion, relevant anti-coronavirus drugs would have been more readily available
when COVID-19 hit,’ said and Moonshot participant Nir London, Senior Scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

‘Now is the time to plan for the future. In addition to addressing this current pandemic, which is not
showing signs of slowing, we want to develop one or more novel pan-coronavirus antiviral molecules for
future outbreaks. We also want to provide an open platform to accelerate the response time when new
pandemics arise,’ London added.

Moonshot data is already available online to enable others to freely build on its work, and the project has already generated over 50% of known structural information on the main protease, a key protein in SARS-CoV-2. The first clinical trials are expected in 2022.

Gates Foundation Goalkeepers event in New York (credit: REUTERS)

Other than Weizmann Institute, collaborators of the Moonshot project include academic and industrial groups such as Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron science facility; the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford (UK); PostEra (US/UK), a machine-learning-driven medicinal chemistry company; the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (US); various drug discovery consultants including MedChemica Ltd (UK),
Thames Pharma Partners (US) and Compass Business Partners (UK); and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (Switzerland), which is leading and coordinating the newly funded drive towards the clinical stages.

The drive was made available by an £8 million donation to the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, an initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, global charitable foundation Wellcome, and Mastercard, with support from public and philanthropic donors.

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