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Four state grants for COVID-19 research coming to the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC)

Doylestown, Aug. 28, 2020 – Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf yesterday (Aug. 27) announced the award of  23 grants totaling $10 million for R&D associated with COVID-19 to Pennsylvania universities and other organizations, and four are coming to the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC), a nonprofit that is one of the nation’s most successful life sciences incubators.

Two grants will go to scientists developing potential COVID-19 treatments at the Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, which manages the PABC and is located there.

Timothy M. Block, Ph.D., will receive a $207,900 grant to continue his work to determine if a small molecule iminosugar, alone or in combination with the common drugs remdesivir or favipiravir, has useful antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. Dr. Block is co-founder, president and CEO of the PABC, Blumberg Institute and Hepatitis B Foundation.

“We are very appreciative of the confidence shown in our work by Gov. Wolf and the state’s Office of Technology and Innovation, as well as the Legislature, which funded this important program,” Dr. Block said. “We’re also proud to be among this very select group of grant recipients, such as the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Pitt, Jefferson University, Drexel and Carnegie Mellon.” 

John Kulp, Ph.D., the Blumberg Institute’s director of the Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Chemistry, and Usha Viswanathan, Ph.D., Blumberg assistant professor, will get a $165,406 grant to continue work on a potential drug they discovered. In laboratory testing, the compound inhibited the SARS-CoV2 spike protein binding to ACE2, meaning it could be the first small molecule anti-viral drug specifically designed for COVID-19 neutralization.

A $430,000 grant will go to the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center to build new labs, offices and instructional space to accommodate COVID-19 research and development. This complements the $19 million expansion now underway at the Bucks County facility, where numerous scientists – along with Drs. Block, Kulp and Viswanathan – are conducting R&D associated with COVID-19. 

The fourth grant, totaling $321,912, is going to a PABC-member company, Evrys Bio, which is located in the center. The company’s scientists are developing host-targeted antiviral drugs that can block the growth of different respiratory viruses including coronaviruses, and that can provide a high barrier to drug resistance.

“We are punching above our weight, in a sense, when you consider the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center’s size relative to most of the others receiving grants,” said Louis P. Kassa, MPA,  executive vice president of the PABC and Blumberg Institute. “While the center is just in its 14th year, we’ve been able to attract some extremely talented scientists and entrepreneurs with very promising ideas they are working to develop and commercialize.”

Located next to the Doylestown Airport in Buckingham Township, the center has more than 70 member companies, 41 of which have operations on site. The PABC website provides details about PABC membership options and upcoming events, such as the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center’s annual life sciences industry conference, which will be held on Nov. 5 as a webinar.

About the Pennsylvania Biotechnology Center (PABC): The PABC is a nonprofit life sciences incubator-accelerator, offering state-of-the-art laboratory and office space to early stage biotech companies, as well as the Hepatitis B Foundation and Baruch S. Blumberg Institute. Managed by the Institute and led by a board appointed by the Foundation, PABC is home to 41 small to mid-size science, research and pharmaceutical companies. The center uses a highly successful services-based approach to nurture and guide its member companies to success, advancing biotechnology, maximizing synergies among nonprofit scientists and their commercial colleagues, and launching new ideas and discoveries that will make a difference. The PABC is in the heart of the Philadelphia-New Jersey pharma belt. To make a donation, click here.