By W. Lowry Caudill
CHAPEL HILL – We need an answer for coronavirus in a hurry.
Scientific research generally doesn’t happen in a hurry.
So thank goodness for the work Dr. Ralph Baric has done for the past six years in a secret lab at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.
Baric and his 30-member team have worked with Gilead Sciences Inc. to develop remdesivir, the drug the World Health Organization views as the most promising to treat the new virus.
There currently is no FDA-approved drug available to treat the virus. “So, basically we have no weapons in our arsenal,” says Dr. Tim Sheahan, a virologist in Baric’s lab.1
For almost 30 years, Baric has studied coronaviruses that include SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which may derive from bats; and MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which may derive from camels. His work with Gilead has focused on drugs to combat such emerging viral diseases.
Baric’s work is a great example of why we need substantial and sustained support from federal institutions like the National Institutes of Health and private sponsors for basic research at our universities.
Research like this isn’t ramped up overnight. The research may not yield fruit for many years. But if we don’t start, support and sustain basic research, we stand no chance of harvesting its results in moments of dire need – such as the moment we find our world in today.
We are very fortunate that our own University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been at the forefront of cutting-edge research for decades. What a tremendous engine of innovation our State of North Carolina has created for itself, the nation and the world.
We don’t know the results yet of Dr. Baric’s work. But we are still very, very fortunate that a sustained commitment to basic research has produced a potential answer for which the entire world now waits.
Dr. W. Lowry Caudill was co-founder in 1991 of Magellan Laboratories Inc., which was acquired in 2002 by Cardinal Health, where Caudill served as worldwide president of pharmaceutical development. He was a member of the UNC Chapel Hill Board of Trustees from 2011-2019 and Chair from 2013-2015. He is a Co-Chair of the $4.25 billion Campaign for Carolina capital campaign and an adjunct Professor of Chemistry at UNC Chapel Hill. He also serves on the Advisory Board of Higher Ed Works.