BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at CUBRC and the University at
Buffalo's New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and
Life Sciences are developing radically new drugs designed to cure
viruses ranging from the deadly Ebola virus to the common cold,
thanks to a major $8.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of
Funded through the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the grant
was announced by Tom McMahon, CUBRC president and chief executive
officer; Bruce Holm, senior vice provost and executive director of
the Center of Excellence; and U.S. Rep. Thomas Reynolds.
It will support the work of researchers at CUBRC, the Center of
Excellence and Prosetta Corp., a biotechnology firm based in San
Francisco, in developing new drugs to treat viral hemorrhagic fever
diseases, including Ebola, Rift Valley Fever Virus and Lassa Fever
Virus, that are of major importance to biodefense, using techniques
that ultimately will be useful in combating all types of
More than 400 applicants from top medical schools around the
U.S. were competing for the grant.
"The CUBRC-UB team was in direct competition with most of the
finest academic research institutions and commercial biotechnology
companies in the world and clearly demonstrated that it is not only
on the playing field, but is playing to win," said Holm.
"I don't think there is any better validation of the strategy
we've been pursuing methodically over the past five years to build
a life sciences prominence in Western New York than this
The focus of the grant is to develop a new class of
broad-spectrum, anti-viral drugs and to create a much faster, more
efficient, drug-development path for anti-viral therapeutics, which
typically have taken years, even decades, to develop.
"For years, we at UB have been exploring the idea that viruses
function like a kind of three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle," said Iain
Hay, Grant T. Fisher Professor of Microbiology in the School of
Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and a member of the Infectious
Diseases research group at the Center of Excellence. "If something
prevents all the pieces of the virus from assembling together
correctly, then the virus will not be infectious."
According to Hay, that idea also is the focus of Prosetta Corp.,
which has been working with researchers at CUBRC.
"It's quite a feather in our cap that Prosetta, based in close
proximity to some of the nation's top medical schools, chose to
work with CUBRC and UB on this grant," Hay said.
McMahon added: "The extraordinary strength of CUBRC's proposal
was derived from the unique combination of CUBRC's leadership
position in the biodefense market, the revolutionary science
offered by Prosetta Corp. and the powerful, both intellectual and
infrastructure, capital within the bioinformatics center and its
Prosetta's focus is to identify the factors inside cells that
can trip up the virus-assembly process and thus render lethal
"The reason why this is so revolutionary is that this method of
anti-viral therapy is not specific to any single virus," said Hay.
"It's applicable across the board, so this technology should help
us in principle deal with viruses that are lethal, as well as those
that cause the common cold."
Hay pointed out that his research group at UB specializes in
seeking out new and lethal viruses overseas and studying tiny,
noninfectious particles of them on campus to determine how they
work. Later steps of the research process that involve infectious
viruses are restricted to government-certified laboratories at
places like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in
Atlanta and others.
Christopher Davis, chief scientist and director of biomedical
research for CUBRC, will serve as program director of the
Other key researchers on the grant include Troy Wood, professor
of chemistry and a member of the center's Drug Discovery group, who
will work on developing small molecules to form the basis of
potential anti-viral therapies.
By the end of the two-year grant, Hay said, the consortium
expects to have identified molecules that interfere with the
viral-assembly process in vitro; after that, more funding will be
secured to conduct clinical research.
"The full intention is to pursue the collaboration between
CUBRC, UB and the Center of Excellence, and Prosetta to develop
products that can be made here in Buffalo," said Hay.
CUBRC is an independent, not-for-profit company headquartered
in the Center of Excellence. It originally was formed by UB and the
former Calspan Corp. to generate technological and economic growth
in Western New York by bringing together scientists and engineers
from its own staff, academia and industry to form multidisciplinary
teams. In conjunction with the Center of Excellence, CUBRC now
executes a variety of research-and-development programs for the
defense, intelligence, homeland security and medical research