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The Project

ANTIVIRALS offers talented researchers a multidisciplinary and intersectoral training programme and prepares them for a future leading role in antiviral drug development in Europe.

ANTIVIRALS is a unique consortium of 7 European Academic Partners and 5 Industrial Partners that offers training to 15 Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) in the field of antiviral drug development. The consortium is funded by the European Union as a Marie Sklodowska Curie European Training Network (GA 642434).

Courses and workshops - The specialists in the ANTIVIRALS network will organise 6 events that include 5 research training workshops and 10 complementary skills courses. These courses will give expert knowledge and skills to the ESRs of the network. The courses will be combined with network progress meetings, in which the ESRs will have the opportunity to build a valuable network with the scientists and ESRs of the network.
Individual research projects - As part of their training, each ESR will perform an individual research project at his/her host institute (in collaboration with other network partners). Importantly, part of the research project will be performed at the premises of one of the other network partners (coined secondments). The projects will take three or four years, depending on the country of recruitment.

PhD programme - The intensive training programme is aimed to lead to a PhD degree. Therefore, each ESR will be enrolled in a graduate programme at a local university, which offers ample of opportunity for further courses.

Connecting Academia and Industry - The intense collaboration between the academic and industrial partners of ANTIVIRALS will give the ESRs an unique opportunity to get a taste of both worlds. A special part of the programme will be the “mini-innovation projects”, in which the ESRs will develop an idea for commercialisation based on their own research projects and guided by experts from our industrial partners.

The need for antiviral drugs. - Viral infections are a major cause of disease, with enormous costs in morbidity/mortality and economic losses worldwide. Since only a few viral diseases can currently be prevented by vaccination, antiviral therapy is an essential instrument to control virus infections. At present, however, specific and licensed antiviral drugs have been developed only against HIV, influenza virus, hepatitis C virus, and some DNA viruses (e.g. herpesviruses). Thus, there is a clear and unmet need for antiviral drugs to treat or prevent infections with other important human pathogens (e.g. enteroviruses, coronaviruses, dengue virus, chikungunya virus, and respiratory syncytial virus). In addition, there is a need for novel antiviral drugs that can eliminate virus from chronically infected individuals (e.g. hepatitis B virus). In line with this, there is great need for future experts in the field which have been trained in a multidisciplinary and intersectoral setting, with attention for both basic and applied aspects of antiviral drug development.
The need for a comprehensive Training Programme in antiviral drug development. - The antiviral drug development process requires a detailed understanding of the molecular mechanisms of virus replication in conjunction with a multidisciplinary approach that is based on expertise and technology from the fields of molecular virology, biochemistry, structural biology, computer-aided drug design, and medicinal chemistry. Few, if any, European universities or research institutes have the broad know-how required to deliver a comprehensive and intersectoral Training Programme that covers the full spectrum of disciplines important for antiviral drug development. By consequence, there is a shortage of internationally oriented scientists with the multidisciplinary skills to advance this challenging field, which is vital to the European health care system and economy.

Mission and design of the ANTIVIRALS consortium.
To fill this gap, a group of European research institutes and industrial partners have established the ANTIVIRALS consortium. It is our mission to offer a multidisciplinary and intersectoral Research Training Programme to talented researchers, preparing them for a leading role in antiviral drug discovery in European industry or academia. Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) will be equipped with state-of-the-art scientific knowledge and technological capabilities in each of the disciplines mentioned above through network-wide training events. These capabilities will be further developed in the ESRs’ Individual Research Projects, which will focus on several of the viruses mentioned above. The Training Programme also includes generic skill courses and mentoring to improve their career development and perspectives.

Research objective
There is an unmet need for antiviral drugs against enteroviruses, coronaviruses, dengue virus, chikungunya virus and respiratory syncytial virus, and novel drugs that can eliminate hepatitis B virus from infected individuals. The overall research objective of ANTIVIRALS is to identify, design, and characterise novel inhibitors of these viruses and to develop them into potent lead candidates for antiviral therapy.

Overview of the Research Programme
To address this objective, three complementary approaches – each of which will be explored in a separate Research Sub-Programme (RSP) – will be followed:

RSP-1: Small-molecule inhibitor screening

RSP-2: Computer-aided drug design RSP-3: Alphabody-based antivirals
Identification, evaluation, and optimisation of small molecules with antiviral activity by library screening.Computer-aided design and evaluation of potential antiviral compounds using both structure-based and ligand-based drug design methodologies.Identification, evaluation, and optimisation of alphabodies with antiviral activity.

Previous network
The ANTIVIRALS training network builds on the experience gained in a previous, very successful Marie Curie Initial Training Network, EUVIRNA . This network started in 2011 and ended in 2015 and successfully training 17 Early Stage Researchers and 3 Experienced Researchers.

Funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 642434.