Apply for grants

$20 million boost for development of antiviral drugs against pandemic influenza

The Pandemic Antiviral Discovery (PAD) initiative is funding 11 research projects around the world to facilitate early-stage development of novel antiviral drugs to treat potential future outbreaks of pandemic influenza. The projects are receiving a total of $20 million.

Fifty-four applications were received in response to a global request for proposals on novel antivirals for pandemic influenza. The 11 funded projects cover a broad range of discovery research and early development activities. These include research into new viral targets; development of more potent dual-acting compounds; and exploring ways to target human proteins and pathways that are essential to influenza virus replication to reduce the likelihood of resistance developing. 

The projects have been developed by researchers from academia, non-profit research organizations, and biotech, some in cross-sector collaboration, and are hosted at institutions and organizations around the world. 

“Pandemic influenza is a constant threat,” says Peter Lawætz Andersen, Senior Vice President and Head of Infectious Diseases at the Novo Nordisk Foundation. “Even now, there is a highly pathogenic strain of avian flu circulating among birds and spreading to mammals, including some cases in humans. It is vital to support discovery, early development and de-risking of new and better medical countermeasures, so that if a pandemic influenza strain starts circulating among humans, we’re as ready as we can be. 

“This is a goal of the PAD initiative, and also partly why the Foundation recently announced the Novo Nordisk Foundation Initiative for Vaccines and Immunity, which will be focused on the development of more robust, broad and long-lasting vaccines against respiratory infections including influenza.” 

Inevitable but hard to predict
Pandemic influenza occurs when a new influenza strain jumps from animals to humans and starts spreading between people globally. These influenza strains have different molecular properties to the seasonal flu viruses that circulate every year, so people have very little, if any, pre-existing immunity. In addition, the existing influenza vaccines and antiviral drugs are not necessarily effective against these new strains. 

Influenza pandemics have occurred throughout history, with the most severe – the Spanish flu in 1918-19 – causing 50-100 million deaths, and the most recent being the 2009 swine flu pandemic. Many experts agree that another influenza pandemic is inevitable, but it is hard to predict when it will happen. 

With this funding, the PAD initiative aims to help the world prepare for these future threats by supporting researchers to identify and develop novel antiviral drug candidates. These should be differentiated from currently marketed drugs for seasonal influenza, demonstrate activity against pandemic influenza strains and drug-resistant influenza strains, and suitable to deploy globally during an emerging pandemic, potentially in combination treatments to reduce the likelihood of drug resistance emerging. 

Second year of PAD grants
This is the second year that grants have been awarded within the PAD initiative, a global philanthropic collaboration between the Novo Nordisk Foundation, Open Philanthropy, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative was established during the Covid-19 pandemic to catalyse early discovery and development of antiviral drugs in preparation for future pandemics. 

The first grants awarded within PAD focused on discovery and early development of antivirals for henipaviruses, a pandemic threat with no current vaccines or antivirals approved. These funded projects are ongoing. Many of the supported researchers attended a PAD-hosted workshop in April to discuss progress and share knowledge. 

At present, no requests for proposals are planned for 2024.

About the PAD initiative
Pandemic Antiviral Discovery (PAD) is a global philanthropic initiative launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Open Philanthropy, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation. PAD’s mission is to help researchers worldwide identify and develop phase 2-ready antiviral drug candidates targeting pandemic threat viruses, including coronaviruses, paramyxoviruses, and orthomyxoviruses. With equitable access as a core principle of the initiative, the founding partners are committed to ensuring that discoveries and innovations supported by PAD are accessible to people in low- and middle-income countries.

Further information

Judith Vonberg
Communications Specialist
+45 4172 7925 [email protected]