Klobuchar, Smith Announce Major Federal Funding to Establish New Antiviral Drug Development Center at University of Minnesota

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Tina Smith (D-MN) announced significant federal funding to establish a new Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Center for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern at the University of Minnesota (UMN). 

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will provide $66.4 million in federal funding over three years for the University of Minnesota to house a new center for researching and developing coronavirus antivirals, especially those that can be taken at home or in an outpatient setting, and treatments targeting specific viruses with high potential to cause a pandemic in the future. UMN was only one of nine institutions across the country selected, and will be the only center in the Midwest. 

“The University of Minnesota has long been a national leader in pioneering medical research and advancing innovation, from housing pioneering professor Charles Hewitt’s vaccine lab, to performing the world’s first kidney transplant to installing the first pacemaker,” said Klobuchar. “It’s only fitting that the University has been chosen to host this new institute for researching and developing antiviral drugs that can be taken outside the hospital setting, which will be critical to strengthening our response to infectious diseases and future pandemics.” 

“Minnesota’s colleges and universities are hubs of innovation,” said Smith. “I’m pleased to see the University of Minnesota receive this award, which will establish a cutting edge antiviral drug research and development center. UMN has a long track record of scientific success and innovation. I’m confident this new center will develop important treatments and help make new discoveries as we look to prepare ourselves for future pandemics.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new antiviral drugs, especially those that could easily be taken by patients at home while their symptoms are still mild,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “Decades of prior research on the structure and vulnerabilities of coronaviruses greatly accelerated our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope that similar research focused on antivirals will better prepare us for the next pandemic.”

“We are pleased and proud of the hard work represented by this significant investment from the NIH in our collaborative faculty and their innovative efforts in tackling viral threats of pandemic potential,” said Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD, dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School and vice president of clinical affairs. “In early 2020, our institution’s faculty rallied to respond to SARS-CoV-2, and this award recognizes their innovative efforts.”

Klobuchar has been a tireless advocate for providing more resources for the NIH, having helped secure seven consecutive years of increased funding, including a $2.25 billion funding boost this year. She has also consistently advocated for Federal response funding to counter outbreaks of coronavirus and other infectious diseases such as Zika and Ebola. 

Smith has supported increased funding for the NIH throughout her time in the Senate. Most recently, she has pushed for increased investments in pandemic preparedness and authored key portions of the PREVENT Pandemic Act, which would help ensure our public health system is prepared to address future pandemics.

These grants are awarded through the Antiviral Program for Pandemics (APP), an intensive research project designed to speed development of therapeutics for COVID-19. The AViDD centers will research, identify, and validate biotherapeutics to block novel viral targets. As drug candidates are identified and evaluated, the most promising will enter late-stage preclinical development.