By Kathleen Berger, Executive Producer for Science & Technology, HEC-TV | March 7, 2021
Scientists in St. Louis rolled up their sleeves in the fight against COVID-19. St. Louis startup Confluence Life Sciences (now Aclaris) developed a potential COVID-19 treatment by retooling an arthritis drug. Another team of scientists with the academic spin off company Precision Virologics created a new COVID-19 vaccine, an adenovirus-based nasal spray now in clinical trial in India. And other scientists in St. Louis are already thinking about the next possible pandemic by developing the science and technology to be prepared for the future.
“One of the pandemics we think will be in the future is the antimicrobial resistance pandemic,” said Christian Harding, CEO & Co-Founder of VaxNewMo. “So our company focuses on bacterial vaccines. Antibiotic resistance is growing more and more, so much so that by 2050 the World Health Organization thinks that more people will die of these antimicrobial resistant infections than cancer and cardiovascular disease.”
Harding said bacterial vaccines would reduce the need and use of antibiotics. VaxNewMo, Confluence Lifesciences and Precision Virologics are located in the BioGenerator, the investment arm of BioSTL.
BioSTL, considered a driving force for life sciences innovation in the St. Louis region, is now hoping to attract more pandemic-related innovations to St. Louis with a $2.96 million federal CARES Act grant.
“The federal government held a competition for programs that would advance the economic resiliency of regions during and post this pandemic,” explained Donn Rubin, President & CEO of BioSTL. “It was our view that because of our position orchestrating for St. Louis a strong bioscience ecosystem, that we were in a position to compete not only on economic resiliency but on pandemic resiliency by developing innovations that could help our nation prevent, mitigate, recover faster from future pandemics and future health-related crisis.”
Having been awarded the $2.96 million, Rubin says the grant will create the Center for National Pandemic Resiliency in Biosciences. This will allow BioSTL to develop and build businesses around any bioscience and technology that can predict, monitor, treat or prevent a widespread disease outbreak.
“St. Louis can be a leader in developing and discovering some of those ideas,” said Rubin. “Advancing those technologies that are going to be very important to our entire country and our entire world if we have another pandemic.”
It’s estimated the center will attract $20 million in private investment. Rubin expects the center will have an even greater impact on the St. Louis region while boosting the nation’s ability to fight pandemics.
“Over $700,000 of this (CARES Act) grant is dedicated to grants that we will make (available) to startups and to innovators to help advance their idea or to advance their pilot,” said Rubin.