Joining Forces

Harvard University, AbbVie form research alliance to address emergent viral diseases

digital illustration of the world, connecting lines and floating viruses

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This article is part of Harvard Medical School’s continuing coverage of medicine, biomedical research, medical education and policy related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and the disease COVID-19.

Harvard University and AbbVie today announced a $30 million collaborative research alliance, launching a multi-pronged effort at Harvard Medical School to study and develop therapies against emergent viral infections, with a focus on those caused by coronaviruses and by viruses that lead to hemorrhagic fever.

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The collaboration aims to rapidly integrate fundamental biology into the preclinical and clinical development of new therapies for viral diseases that address a variety of therapeutic modalities. HMS has led several large-scale, coordinated research efforts launched at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A key element of having a strong R&D organization is collaboration with top academic institutions, like Harvard Medical School, to develop therapies for patients who need them most,” said Michael Severino, vice chairman and president of AbbVie. “There is much to learn about viral diseases and the best way to treat them. By harnessing the power of collaboration, we can develop new therapeutics sooner to ensure the world is better prepared for future potential outbreaks.” 

“The cataclysmic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic reminds us how vital it is to be prepared for the next public health crisis and how critical collaboration is on every level—across disciplines, across institutions and across national boundaries,” said George Q. Daley, dean of Harvard Medical School. “Harvard Medical School, as the nucleus of an ecosystem of fundamental discovery and therapeutic translation, is uniquely positioned to propel this transformative research alongside allies like AbbVie.”

AbbVie will provide $30 million over three years and additional in-kind support leveraging AbbVie’s scientists, expertise and facilities to advance collaborative research and early-stage development efforts across five program areas that address a variety of therapeutic modalities:

  • Immunity and immunopathology—Study of the fundamental processes that impact the body’s critical immune responses to viruses and identification of opportunities for therapeutic intervention.

Led by Ulirich Von Andrian, the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Professor of Immunopathology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS and program leader of basic immunology at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard, and Jochen Salfeld, vice president of immunology and virology discovery at AbbVie.

  • Host targeting for antiviral therapies—Development of approaches that modulate host proteins in an effort to disrupt the life cycle of emergent viral pathogens.

Led by Pamela Silver, the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, and Steve Elmore, vice president of drug discovery science and technology at AbbVie.

  • Antibody therapeutics—Rapid development of therapeutic antibodies or biologics against emergent pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2, to a preclinical or early clinical stage.

Led by Jonathan Abraham, assistant professor of microbiology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, and by Jochen Salfeld, vice president of immunology and virology discovery at AbbVie.

  • Small molecules—Discovery and early-stage development of small-molecule drugs that would act to prevent replication of known coronaviruses and emergent pathogens.

Led by Mark Namchuk, executive director of therapeutics translation at HMS and senior lecturer on biological chemistry and molecular pharmacology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, and Steve Elmore, vice president of drug discovery science and technology at AbbVie.

  • Translational development—Preclinical validation, pharmacological testing, and optimization of leading approaches, in collaboration with Harvard-affiliated hospitals, with program leads to be determined.