PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — With COVID-19 vaccines widely available, scientists continue to work on developing antiviral drugs that could also have a big impact during future pandemics.
A Treasure Coast scientist is working on next-generation cures.
At the Cleveland Clinic Florida Research and Innovation Center in Port St. Lucie, Dr. Michaela Gack has spent most of the past year learning how COVID-19 infects the human body.
Now she and her team of scientists are looking at new ways to develop new antiviral drugs.
"We really need to rethink our approach to the next virus that we don't know of," Gack said.
She was recently awarded a $5.6 million grant through the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Program. Her work will focus on trying new approaches in the lab.
"For me, it's really super exciting," Gack said.
Scientists usually target the virus when looking for treatments.
Gack and her team will look at whether targeting specific human enzymes, which are essential for virus replication, might be an effective approach to combat viral infections.
"If we target a human enzyme shared among the coronavirus family, it would work not only against COVID-19 ... but even against emerging coronaviruses we don't even know of," Gack said.
The NIH funding was awarded to just 10 scientists around the country. It will fund five years of research on the Treasure Coast. And after COVID, time is of the essence when it comes to finding new treatments.
"The COVID-19 virus won't be the last one," Gack said. "Hopefully the next one won't cause another pandemic."
Gack said there's been some promising data when it comes to mosquito-borne illnesses. They hope to publish that research in the next year.