Antiviral drug development: New call for proposals

In August 2020, the funding program "Viral Zoonoses - Innovative Approaches to Drug Development" was launched in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the new call for proposals titled "Innovative Approaches to Antiviral Drug Development" introduces further funding opportunities for application-oriented drug research in Germany. The closing date for applications is February 17, 2022.

Dr. Dutow, how did the first round of calls for proposals for "Viral Zoonoses" go?

In the first round, the Foundation funded twelve projects with about 6.7 million euros. These extremely promising translational projects are currently being implemented. Overall, we are very satisfied: By the closing date for proposals, 37 applications had been received – amounting to a success rate of around 33%! 
In terms of content, the funded topics reflect the continuing urgency to develop active substances especially against SARS-CoV2. Ten of the funded projects chose the corona virus as a therapeutic target. However, in response to current developments we decided to adapt the funding initiative.

Dr. Pavel Dutow, VolkswagenStiftung (Foto: Julia Fischer)
Dr. Pavel Dutow is program manager of the initiative. (Photo: VolkswagenStiftung)

What changes have been made?

Although the pandemic is not yet over, it seems that the tide has now turned. Medical science has come up with several effective vaccines and drug development against the corona virus is being widely pursued. We have therefore shifted the focus of the funding program: In addition to pandemic zoonoses, the new call will also focus on other neglected and under-researched non-zoonotic viral pathogens. For this reason, we have also changed the title to "Innovative Approaches to Antiviral Drug Development". Another new feature is that the projects can involve international cooperation partners. And finally, we have increased the maximum funding amount to 700,000 euros per project. By the way, promising projectsill still have the option of submitting an application for a second project phase.

What made you decide to adapt the funding initiative?

We constantly track what is happening on the research and funding landscape in antiviral drug development, and it is evident that the funding opportunities for corona research are now very diverse. Our aim is to act as a driving force for new research topics, which is why we are now shifting the focus to include other viruses. In an international comparison, Germany needs to catch up in this respect. We also believe that antiviral drug research in Germany can benefit greatly from intensifying international collaboration. Moreover, we need to give researchers greater financial leeway, because translational research is expensive.

When must applications for funding in the new round be submitted to the Foundation?

The deadline for the next call for proposals is February 17, 2022. We anticipate that funding decisions can be communicated before the end of summer 2022.

What should applicants look out for when submitting a proposal?

The core of the funding initiative lies in the interaction between academic research groups and private companies – with the long-term goal of jointly developing an antiviral drug. The aim of the funding initiative is to support innovative translational projects in the early stages, and we therefore require a letter of support from a biotech or pharmaceutical company demonstrating an interest in joint research activities and a willingness to collaborate. The Foundation expects that members of the academic research group will be given the opportunity to look behind the scenes of company research, for example through laboratory internships, research stays, networking and regular contact with company researchers. The practical application of the results and a translational perspective should be an inherent consideration from the beginning. In this way, we are focusing on the overarching goal of this funding initiative; namely, the strengthening of diverse and translational virology and drug research at universities in Germany.

Research projects with a duration of 3 years can apply for funding in an amount of up to 700,000 euros. Successful projects will have the opportunity to submit a translational continuation proposal for a further 2 years with funding up to 1 million euros. Here you can find all information about the new call for proposals.