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Alabama scientists are trying to help find treatments for COVID-19


The Alabama Department of Commerce announced Tuesday that a number of Alabama firms, research institutions and scientists have been mobilized in the international effort to fight the novel coronavirus, which has killed over ten thousand people this year.

Huntsville’s Diatherix announced that it has developed a highly sensitive and specific assay, or test, for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 that causes the COVID-19 respiratory infection.

Diatherix is located on the Huntsville campus of the HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology. Its lab is prepared to evaluate respiratory specimens collected by healthcare providers for COVID-19.

As of press time, 250,614 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 across the globe since if first appeared in Wuhan City, China in November and it has killed 10,254 persons. Here in this country, 14,336 people have already tested positive for this illness and 217 have died since January, 187 just in the last ten days.

Birmingham-based Southern Research has announced a partnership with Tonix Pharmaceuticals Holding Group, a New York-based biopharmaceutical company, to test a potential COVID-19 vaccine. If trials are successful, it could be available as early as late this year. Their plan is to develop and test a potential horsepox vaccine that expresses protein from the SARS-CoV-2 strain of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. There is currently no vaccine available to protect against the disease.

“We look forward to this collaboration to advance a potential COVID-19 vaccine,” said Scott Goebel, a senior scientist in Southern Research’s Drug Development division and principal investigator of the project.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham are desperately working on developing an effective treatment against the disease, that could potentially kill millions of people according to two separate recently released computer models.

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UAB is home to the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, or AD3C, which focuses on developing treatments for four different virus families, including coronaviruses.

AD3C research has produced an investigational drug, remdesivir, that is now being used to treat a few select patients in China and the U.S. who have contracted COVID-19.

“This is a prime example of how the research we are conducting at UAB plays a critical role in treating patients on a global scale and our contribution of substantial scientific advances,” said Dr. Richard Whitley, distinguished professor at UAB and principal investigator on the research project.

Southern Research is also a partner in the AD3C.

Birmingham-based BioGX Inc., a molecular diagnostics company based at the Innovation Depot technology incubator, is also involved in the effort against COVID-19. They have joined BD, a global medical technology company, to ask the FDA to authorize new diagnostics tests that would increase the potential capacity to screen for COVID-19 by thousands of tests per day.

BioGX developed an assay to detect the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19 for BD automated molecular diagnostic platform, which can analyze samples in two to three hours.

“The foundation of BioGX firmly stands on its team’s ability to step up and address such unmet needs with speed. Authorization to use our test would increase access across the U.S. to an automated, highly reliable SARS-CoV-2 test,” said Dr. Shazi Iqbal, chief executive officer of BioGX.

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“Alabama’s scientists have long conducted world-class research in infectious disease protection and treatment, so it’s no surprise that they are deeply involved in the fight against COVID-19 disease,” said Alabama Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield. “The talents and capabilities of these Alabama researchers will benefit the overall global effort during this public health emergency.”

Economic developer Dr. Nicole Jones told the Alabama Political Reporter, “Time is of the essence in the global quest for remedies. Some of the most brilliant minds in the world collaborate within Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville and Southern Research in Birmingham. I have spoken with many Alabamians employed in the field of biotechnology and confident that researchers are working around the clock to explore possible solutions to combat the unprecedented COVID-19 (coronavirus).”


Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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