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Our anti-pandemic efforts

posted Apr 3, 2020, 8:01 AM by Kevin Esvelt   [ updated Apr 4, 2020, 7:40 AM ]
For the last several weeks, numerous members of our group, all volunteers, have been working to develop a novel antiviral therapeutic that could also be turned into a gene therapy vaccine. 

The rationale: our group has access to computational and laboratory methods of evolving proteins extremely quickly, so we're attempting to generate "decoy" versions of the receptor used by SARS-CoV-2 that bind the virus even more tightly. This is promising because the virus can't readily escape: it needs to bind that receptor to enter cells. 

To be clear, decoy receptor concept is an old idea, but we think we can do it faster than most, ideally in just weeks. 

 We also have a novel design goal: our sACE2 candidates are being evolved to minimize all interactions with the body's native signaling pathways, meaning we could give patients very high doses to completely block infection without worrying about side effects. If we can succeed quickly and move it to clinical trials, it could save a lot of lives from COVID-19. 

It could also help the future by pointing towards what biodefense programs like BARDA should do next: fund development of mimics for all receptors known to be used by human viruses and potential species-jumping animal viruses. 

The best current description of our plan is our NIH proposal, which we'll be submitting on nearly the last eligible day because we've been so busy getting the work moving. We're deeply grateful to our collaborators in Ed Boyden's group as well as Sebastian Carrasco, the lead veterinary pathologist at MIT's Division of Comparative Medicine, for their amazing contributions to the shared effort. 

We currently don't have dedicated funding for any of our anti-COVID projects and have been burning through our discretionary reserves to make this happen, so if you'd like to support this project, you can do so here. All funds will be used to fight the pandemic; this is our only ongoing laboratory effort.

Kevin and others have also been working on out-of-lab collaborations such as Safe Paths, Saving Face, and Secure DNA, all highly relevant to fighting pandemics. No single technology will solve the problem. But all of humanity is focused on a single problem. Together, we might not just extinguish the biological wildfire that is COVID-19. That's thinking far too small. We should aim to end human pandemics - forever.