The development of broad-spectrum antiviral medical countermeasures to treat viral hemorrhagic fevers caused by natural or weaponized virus infections

Mark R. Hickman*, David L. Saunders, Catherine A. Bigger, Christopher D. Kane, Patrick L. Iversen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


The Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Defense (JPEO-CBRND) began development of a broad-spectrum antiviral countermeasure against deliberate use of high-consequence viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHFs) in 2016. The effort featured comprehensive preclinical research, including laboratory testing and rapid advancement of lead molecules into nonhuman primate (NHP) models of Ebola virus disease (EVD). Remdesivir (GS-5734, Veklury, Gilead Sciences) was the first small molecule therapeutic to successfully emerge from this effort. Remdesivir is an inhibitor of RNAdependent RNA polymerase, a viral enzyme that is essential for viral replication. Its robust potency and broad-spectrum antiviral activity against certain RNA viruses including Ebola virus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARSAU-CoV-2): PleasenotethatSARSled to its clinical evaluation in randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) in human patients during the 2018 EVD outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the ongoing Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic today. Remdesivir was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of COVID-19 requiring hospitalization. Substantial gaps remain in improving the outcomes of acute viral infections for patients afflicted with both EVD and COVID-19, including how to increase therapeutic breadth and strategies for the prevention and treatment of severe disease. Combination therapy that joins therapeutics with complimentary mechanisms of action appear promising, both preclinically and in RCTs. Importantly, significant programmatic challenges endure pertaining to a clear drug and biological product development pathway for therapeutics targeting biodefense and emerging pathogens when human efficacy studies are not ethical or feasible. For example, remdesivir’s clinical development was facilitated by outbreaks of Ebola and SARS-CoV-2; as such, the development pathway employed for remdesivir is likely to be the exception rather than the rule.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0010220
JournalPLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022
Externally publishedYes


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