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Mission: Accepted

700,000 euros for the development of new antiviral agents / Research network led by HIRI receives innovation funding from the German Federal Agency SPRIND

Würzburg, 9 November 2021 – The German Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND) is funding a southern German research alliance led by the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) in Würzburg with an initial amount of 700,000 euros. The goal is to develop novel antiviral agents. The initial funding period covers twelve months. If progress is made, two subsequent years and further funding may follow. HIRI is a joint venture of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research Braunschweig and the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg.

The mission is to generate a "quantum leap for new antiviral agents," according to the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND) in the call for entries for its very first challenge. With this initiative, the 2019 founded agency aims to support the development of radically new antivirals. HIRI embraced the challenge: The Würzburg institute now receives an initial one-year grant of 700,000 euros in a team with the Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS) and the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). In the event of follow-up funding, the University of Heidelberg will join as a fourth collaborative partner. Their joint project: the use of bacterial immune systems as a novel class of active agents in the fight against human viruses.

Leveraging bacterial immune systems

Applicant and project initiator Chase Beisel, Principal Investigator at HIRI, explains his approach: "Traditionally, antivirals come as small-molecule inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies. These are often specific to one virus and thus must be developed from scratch when tackling a new virus, such as SARS-CoV-2. In my lab at HIRI, we study bacterial immune systems and want to better understand the mechanisms that bacteria use to defend themselves against viruses. We want to leverage bacterial defense systems and create a new class of antiviral agents for human infectious diseases."

The key advantage of this approach compared to traditional technologies: Therapeutics could be developed more quickly and could also be adapted more easily in the event of viral mutations. With its award, the SPRIND jury has now honored this promising approach.

The contest

The three-stage contest involves evaluating the progress of all participating teams every twelve months. If the jury is convinced of the results, a new grant can be awarded for the next stage. The total competition period covers three years. For applicants that successfully pass all three stages, additional funding may be available for clinical trials.

A total of 45 applications from Germany and abroad were submitted to SPRIND. Nine competing teams can now begin their work. A maximum of six can reach the second stage, and four finalists will be selected for the third stage.

About SPRIND

The Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND) is a subsidiary of the German government and was founded in December 2019. Its mission is to identify, develop and finance groundbreaking civil innovations. Its innovation competitions, so-called SPRIND Challenges, aim to result in solutions for the major societal and technological challenges of our time.

About HIRI

The Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) is the first institution worldwide to combine ribonucleic acid (RNA) research with infection biology. Based on novel findings from its strong basic research program, the institute’s long-term goal is to develop innovative therapeutic approaches to better diagnose and treat human infections.

HIRI is a joint venture of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and the Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg (JMU) and is located on the Würzburg Medical Campus.

Britta Grigull

Press contact

Dr Britta Grigull