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Massachusetts Consortium Tests Thousands Of Existing Drugs Against Coronavirus

BOSTON (CBS) - Dr. Robert Davey is used to wearing a full bio-containment suit while handling deadly diseases like Ebola. "I look like the Michelin man," the virologist joked.

Now, Davey and his team of scientists at Boston University's National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories or NEIDL are trying their double-gloved hands at the coronavirus.

"We can screen many thousands of small molecule drugs very efficiently to see those that can stop the virus replicating in cells," Davey said.

In a matter of weeks, NEIDL has tested 8,000 already approved drug molecules on cells infected with the virus with remarkable speed. Davey says 80 of those have showed promise when it comes to slowing the virus's replication.

"It's been like hopping into a sports car and going from 0 to 60 in 3 seconds," he said.

NEIDL is just one player in a massive, Harvard Medical School led group of hospitals and institutions called the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness that formed to learn about and combat the novel coronavirus.

"One of the things, in order to set priorities that has taken off is the use of things like artificial intelligence, machine learning to take better guesses at the smaller pool of molecules we should test first," Dr. Mark Namchuk said.

Namchuk co-leads the Consortium's Therapeutics Working Group and says the collaboration between institutions allows them to scale up the number of molecules that are tested against the coronavirus.

"Not just look at approved molecules, which will be the first place we'll look, but we're also collaborating with different companies to look at molecules that are younger in their trajectory development," he said.

Namchuk hopes that the amount of research taking place at once will translate into real results for patients much sooner.

"If we were able to find an approved drug that was very effective and it was used at its previously approved dose that cuts years out of the process," he said.

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