The Problem At Hand
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of daily modern life; employees work from home, students attend class online, and individuals have been encouraged to stay inside, only leaving isolation for the essentials. The response has provided a mild reprieve from the rapid spread of the virus, though it is a temporary solution to a problem without a clear end in sight. Companies, universities and research labs involved in the health sciences across the world have shifted their focuses to combating COVID-19 and viral outbreaks to provide a better, more permanent solution for overcoming pandemic.
Recently, alongside Stanford University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, the Center for Research Innovation at Northeastern University announced their support of the COVID-19 Technology Access Framework, which is a set of licensing principles that aims to make technologies that could aid research in preventing, diagnosing and treating COVID-19 more available. We took a moment to talk to Thomas Webster, a faculty researcher at Northeastern, about his work on one of these technologies.
Webster is a Professor at the College of Engineering at Northeastern University and heads a research lab responsible for researching and developing advanced nano-molecular technology that he calls the “Nano-Medicine Lab.” Earlier this month, Audax Medical, Inc., a Massachusetts-based company dedicated to developing medical innovations, licensed a technology developed in Webster’s lab that utilizes a nano-molecular approach to viral therapy.
“What we are creating in the lab are molecules that are about 80,000 times smaller than the diameter of a strand of your hair,” says Webster. He explains that since COVID-19 and viruses in general are nano-meter structures, his research team’s nano-molecular focus is well suited to combating the virus: “In order to kill the viruses, you have to make a nano-meter material to disrupt their function.” Webster also says that the material his team has produced not only provides a flexible solution to combating COVID-19, but can also provide some relief from the inflammatory symptoms that afflict people suffering from the virus.
However, according to Webster, his team’s research was not originally intended to provide viral therapy. He says that when he started researching this technology eight years ago, his lab’s mission was to develop an injectable nano-molecular material that could help regenerate tissue and cartilage in patients. Audax licensed Webster’s technology at the time in its original capacity and has since been commercializing it for several regenerative medicine applications. Though, as research continued, Webster, Audax, and his team noticed that these molecules also helped prevent the spread of bacterial infections. “We quickly hypothesized, when this COVID-19 situation came up,” Webster said, “that these molecules are great at healing tissue, they’re great at reducing infections, exceptional at inhibiting inflammation that often comes from microbes, and perhaps it could be used to kill viruses.”
While Webster’s research is promising, the technology must first be cleared by the FDA and thoroughly tested before it can be administered to patients. However, with funding and commercial backing from Audax Medical, Inc., the technology Webster’s lab has produced stands a much better chance of meeting these obstacles and moving the treatment to market.
“We believe advancing our efforts and combined scientific expertise with Dr. Webster and his team in addressing this global crisis is our responsibility. Audax is honored to partner with Northeastern on this critical pursuit”, stated Mark Johanson, Founder and CEO of Audax Medical. Webster says he is excited to reach a commercialization milestone many therapies fail to achieve and partner with Audax Medical, Inc. as they work together to develop a safe and effective viral therapy in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak.
Written by Joseph Burns
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