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Emory creates endowed professorship to honor scientist behind key tool in fighting COVID-19
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Elaine Justice
George Painter in the laboratory

ATLANTA – Emory University has created an endowed distinguished professorship honoring George Painter, the CEO of DRIVE (Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory) and the director of the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD), for his life-saving work in developing critical medicines including molnupiravir, which is now approved globally for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19).

Painter, an Emory alumnus, has devoted his career to developing antiviral drugs. He holds more than 150 patents, many of which have led to approved, commercially available drugs or combinations of drugs for the treatment of HIV, hepatitis B, smallpox, influenza, and coronavirus infections. He has published more than 120 peer-reviewed papers.

Painter will be the first to assume the endowed distinguished professorship in the Department of Pharmacology in the Emory University School of Medicine this month.

"George Painter's discovery of multiple life-saving drugs and leadership of DRIVE have had an indelible impact on the world,” says Emory President Gregory L. Fenves. “This endowed distinguished chair, which Dr. Painter will hold, will provide support for him to continue the vital work of turning discoveries into safe and effective therapeutics while building on the culture of innovation he helped create over the last decade."

"I'm deeply honored that my work has inspired the creation of an endowed chair devoted to developing antiviral agents to address unmet medical needs, especially in underserved populations. It's encouraging this vital mission at Emory is getting the long-term support it deserves," says Painter.

The professorship’s donor, who asked to remain anonymous, made a gift of $5 million to support the establishment of this distinguished professorship and requested that it be named for Painter to honor his numerous contributions to pharmacology.

The research that helped lead to the development of molnupiravir, now a key tool in fighting COVID-19, originated from Painter and his team’s search to find compounds that interfered with the replication of Venezuelan equine encephalitis viruses. The compound (EIDD-2801), though, proved to have broader efficacy, including activity against highly pathogenic coronaviruses such as the original SARS-CoV and its distant relative, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus. With a goal to discover antiviral agents for influenza and emerging diseases, Painter and his team were able to quickly redirect their efforts to address COVID-19.

In January 2020, Painter met Wendy Holman, CEO and co-founder of the company Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. She and her husband, Wayne Holman, had experience developing an antibody against Ebola and were eager to contribute to the fight against COVID-19. With the extensive data that Emory scientists and DRIVE’s collaborators accumulated on the activity of the drug in animal models with viral diseases, Ridgeback was able to obtain FDA approval for phase 1 testing in humans. DRIVE and Ridgeback announced a collaboration in March 2020 to move EIDD-2801 into clinical trials, with Ridgeback licensing the technology from DRIVE.

In November 2021, British regulators approved the use of molnupiravir for at-risk patients with mild to moderate COVID-19, making it the world’s first approved oral medication for COVID-19. And in December of 2021, molnupiravir received Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as an investigational oral antiviral drug for the treatment of COVID-19.

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