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Blumberg Institute awarded federal research contract worth up to $32 million to develop treatment for yellow fever

 There currently is no effective treatment for yellow fever, which kills thousands of people every year.

Doylestown, Pa., Jan. 17, 2023 – The Baruch S. Blumberg Institute has been awarded a one-year contract by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, to develop a potential treatment for yellow fever, an often-deadly disease that has no cure.

NIAID has made an initial award of $5.5 million to the Blumberg Institute with further funding of up to a total of $32.3 million available over the potentially five-year course of the contract if all contract options are exercised. The contract is being awarded through the NIAID’s Antiviral Program for Pandemics (APP).

Blumberg Institute scientists, led by Jinhong Chang, MD, PhD, have discovered a new type of small molecule,

Jinhong Chang, PhD

Jinhong Chang, MD, PhD

direct-acting antiviral drug that has demonstrated effectiveness against yellow fever in a series of lab studies.

There is no cure or treatment for yellow fever, a mosquito-borne disease caused by a virus found mostly in Africa and South America. An estimated 1.7 million adults and children are infected annually, with up to 170,000 severe cases and 29,000 to 60,000 deaths every year, the World Health Organization says.

Randall N. Hyer, MD, PhD, MPH, president of the Blumberg Institute, said: “This discovery reflects the high quality of the research being conducted here at the Blumberg. We are thrilled the federal government is supporting this breakthrough discovery, which could directly benefit millions of people worldwide.”

Working with Ju-Tao Guo, MD, senior vice president and chief scientific officer at the Blumberg Institute, and Yanming Du, PhD, professor and director of medicinal chemistry at the institute, Dr. Chang discovered the potential therapeutic for yellow fever while searching for broadly active antiviral drugs.

Using high-throughput screening, Drs. Chang and Guo’s teams assessed more than 27,000 compounds before identifying one that showed some effect against dengue. Their further analysis showed that the compound was extremely effective against yellow fever with an unprecedented mode-of-action. Subsequent structure optimization was performed by Dr. Du’s team to generate a promising lead candidate.

“Dr. Chang’s discovery that this compound is a promising treatment for yellow fever, a deadly disease, resulted from some first-rate scientific thinking and more than a decade of hard work,” Dr. Hyer said. “It also illustrates that drug development is very challenging and time-consuming, which is why so few projects are successful.”

Dr. Chang, professor of molecular virology and antiviral research at the Blumberg Institute, is principal investigator for the contract, which is titled, “Development of an orally available antiviral drug for yellow fever.” Yanming Du, PhD, professor of medicinal chemistry at the Institute, is co-principal investigator. Ju-Tao Guo, MD, professor, senior vice president and chief scientific officer of the Blumberg Institute, is institutional scientific leader of the contract.

“There is a pressing unmet medical need for a yellow fever antiviral drug,” Dr. Chang said. “Not only is the current disease burden a serious issue, there is an increasing potential for a global epidemic of yellow fever in non-endemic, unvaccinated countries due to international travel and widespread existence of YFV-carrying mosquito vectors in tropical, subtropical and temperate regions throughout the world.”

The NIAID contract is the largest-ever research agreement for the Blumberg Institute, a nonprofit organization located just north of Philadelphia, and will fund the hiring of several senior scientists and support staff, according to Dr. Hyer.

“The yellow fever drug research will complement the Blumberg Institute’s other research programs, principally in hepatitis B and liver cancer,” according to Chari A. Cohen, DrPH, MPH, president of the Hepatitis B Foundation. This important advance in virology and liver disease will strengthen our hepatitis B cure research program by bringing on more scientists and expanding our capacity for more advanced drug development.”

Please note: This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Department of Health and Human Services, under Contract No. 75N93023C00003. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIAID.

About the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute:  An independent, nonprofit research organization, the Blumberg Institute was launched in 2003 by the Hepatitis B Foundation to advance its research mission. Today, the Institute is one of the nation’s leading centers for translational research in hepatitis B and liver cancer. The Institute supports drug discovery, biomarker discovery and translational biotechnology around common research themes such as chronic hepatitis, liver disease and liver cancer in an environment conducive to interaction, collaboration and focus. The Blumberg Institute is located in the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center, which it manages, near Doylestown, Pa. For more, go to www.blumberginstitute.org and follow us on Twitter @BlumbergInstit1.