NSF grant aiding Purdue-affiliated startup’s work to treat COVID-19, stop future viral pandemics

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Akanocure Pharmaceuticals Inc., a Purdue University-affiliated startup, is receiving national support to pursue a strategy to treat severe COVID-19 cases and possible future outbreaks involving other viruses. (Image provided)

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University-affiliated startup is receiving national support to pursue a strategy to treat severe COVID-19 cases and possible future outbreaks involving other viruses.

Akanocure Pharmaceuticals Inc. has received a $256,000 Phase I research grant from the National Science Foundation.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”

The startup, which has been working on technologies and drugs for people with hard-to-treat cancers, has been studying groups of molecules that show promise in fighting COVID-19 and other viruses.

“We felt a moral obligation to help as the world struggles with this deadly pandemic that has claimed lives and economies, so we submitted our pitch to the National Science Foundation and were invited in March of 2020 to submit a full proposal,” said Sherine Abdelmawla, Akanocure co-founder, CEO and Purdue Ph.D. alumna. “The project is targeting the group of COVID-19 patients who will develop severe illness featuring multiple organ dysfunction.

Abdelmawla said current research suggests that the multi-organ damage that occurs during COVID-19 infection is characterized by a complex abnormal immune response.

“In the process of fighting the virus, our body organs get attacked by our own immune system as collateral damage,” Abdelmawla said. “An ideal treatment would not only stop the virus from making more copies of itself but would also regulate the abnormal immune response.”

Akanocure will use the NSF funding to further study and develop AK-423, a broad-spectrum antiviral and immunomodulatory agent that is designed to stop the viruses from replicating and aid the immune system in providing an appropriate response.

“Our strategy was merited by the NSF for the fact that it is designed to not only address the current pandemic but to also address future threats with a mutated COVID-19 virus or with a totally different virus,” Abdelmawla said. “Our work is designed to ensure that the world will not be caught unprepared again if it is hit by a future viral threat.”

Akanocure is located in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette.

The startup co-founders received assistance from the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub housed in the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration in Purdue’s Discovery Park District, adjacent to the Purdue campus. Akanocure technology is licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

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