The COVID Moonshot, a non-profit, open-science consortium of scientists from around the world dedicated to the discovery of globally affordable and easily-manufactured antiviral drugs against COVID-19 and future viral pandemics has received key funding of £8 million from Wellcome, on behalf of the Covid-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.
The Moonshot started as a spontaneous virtual collaboration in March 2020. As countries locked down, a group of scientists, academics, pharmaceutical research teams and students began a worldwide, twitter-fuelled race against the clock to identify new molecules that could block SARS-CoV-2 infection and develop pills that would be readily available to the most vulnerable communities.
Ultimately more than 150 scientists – including dozens of students who put their own projects on hold – joined Moonshot to crowdsource ideas for molecular compounds, model them and evaluate them in-vitro against the virus. Their goal: a safe, globally affordable, not-for-profit oral treatment for COVID-19 and related viral pandemics.
‘Open drug discovery efforts are invariably super slow – ours has been an express train on tracks we have had to lay down as we go,’ wrote Frank von Delft, Professor of Structural Chemical Biology at the University of Oxford and Principal Beamline Scientist at Diamond Light Source, in a Comment published in June in Nature. ‘It is a way of working none of us realized was possible.’
Collaborators of the Moonshot project include academic and industrial groups such as Diamond Light Source, the UK’s national synchrotron; the Weizmann Institute of Science (Israel); the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford (UK); PostEra (US/UK); the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (US); various drug discovery consultants including MedChemica Ltd (UK), Thames Pharma Partners (US), and Compass Business Partners (UK); and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (Switzerland), which is now taking the lead in coordinating the Wellcome-funded drive towards the clinic.
The team now aims to identify pre-clinical candidate molecules by end of 2021 – anti-viral compounds that will be simple to manufacture in the form of pills. All the generated discovery scientific data and the general learnings of the project will be put in the public domain. Moonshot data is already available online to enable others to freely build on its work – the project has already generated over 50% of known structural information on the main protease, a key protein in SARS-CoV-2. The first clinical trials are expected in 2022.