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Two esteemed researchers from the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine were recently awarded funding from the UAB Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Blazer Bridge Fund.

Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., Vice Chair of Research and Benjamin Monroe Carraway, M.D., Endowed Chair in Anesthesiology of the Heersink Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, is collaborating with G. M. Anantharamaiah, Ph.D., of the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics, and Palliative Care, to continue their work on treatment methods for viral infections.

Kevin Harrod HeadshotThe Harrod lab is at the forefront of research focusing on viral respiratory infections such as influenza (flu) and SARS-CoV-2 (COVID). During the pandemic, Harrod had many opportunities for collaboration; Anantharamaiah’s talent as a chemist and Harrod’s focus on the mechanisms of respiratory viruses made this team the perfect pair to conduct further investigation. Their project will build on Anantharamaiah’s decades-long research focusing on the occurrence of antiviral properties of cationic peptides. This research supports the idea that the antiviral properties found in cationic peptides could treat viruses such as flu and COVID.

“All of the antivirals we currently have on the market have limitations, and there is a tremendous amount of commercialization space for antivirals that target viruses,” Harrod says. “None of the antivirals we have to date for respiratory viruses have broad spectrum activity. The compounds we are working with have broad spectrum activity against the two most important viruses: influenza and COVID virus.”

The eventual goal of the project is commercialization of these treatment methods, but Harrod shares that it is a long road. Commercialization involves researching, creating, and implementing specific solutions such as medication for an infection. “We believe these cationic compounds peptides will have activity against most of viruses,” he says.

Before the Blazer Bridge Fund, this research was funded by an i6 Innovation Award, also awarded from the Bill L. Harbert Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. With previous funding, the team was able to show that cationic peptides are antiviral. The money and resources gained from the Blazer Bridge Fund will act as seed money to build a stronger foundation to lead to the commercialization process. The institute not only provides funding and aid with several legal aspects of the commercialization process such as patents and prospects, but also for raising additional capital and providing networking opportunities with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and biotech companies.

Harrod collaborates with several entities including the department’s clinical physicians. They work to identify patient populations, and then identify opportunities for intervention and work to optimize patient care. The continuous validation of projects such as Harrod’s is crucial, and the team says their next step is to apply for a National Institute of Health (NIH) Small Business Programs Grant.