Dana Ferraris, McDaniel College – Discovering Anti-Viral Drugs to Treat COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic is offering a great teaching opportunity for faculty.

Dana Ferraris, associate professor of chemistry at McDaniel College, discusses why.

Dana Ferraris, associate professor of Chemistry and the John Desmond Kopp Professorship in the Sciences, began teaching at McDaniel College in 2015 as a visiting professor before joining the faculty as associate professor in 2017. At McDaniel, he teaches organic chemistry and medicinal chemistry. He has also mentored undergraduate students completing student-faculty research and has most recently worked with students on research to discover drugs to fight COVID-19.

A synthetic medicinal chemist, Ferraris spent over 15 years doing drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry and he received FDA approval in 2020 for cedazuridine, a cancer drug he invented more than a decade ago. He has also been involved with the American Chemical Society since 1994.

Prior to joining McDaniel, he taught at Stevenson University and The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Ferraris earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Lafayette College and a M.B.A. and Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University.

Discovering Anti-Viral Drugs to Treat COVID-19

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In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a worldwide race to discover antiviral drugs to treat, and possibly even beat, COVID-19.

We’re in a unique situation right now as there has been tremendous effort to share scientific data to jump start target based drug discovery efforts. In an unprecedented move in research, information is being shared by scientists to essentially crowdsource a cure. These crowdsourcing efforts are really what has given us a starting point to do this work.

COVID-19 has also provided a rare opportunity to witness the speed in which compounds are being tested. A process that can take months, if not years, is being completed in a matter of weeks.

As Chemistry professors, my colleague, Peter Craig, and I seized on this opportunity over the past two summers to work with teams of undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines in labs on our campus. We have both been conducting research to find ways to attack the COVID-19 virus by designing and synthesizing compounds that could potentially be used to treat COVID-19 in addition to other viruses.

My group has been working to design small molecules to inhibit the coronavirus’ main protease, or in other words, interrupt the virus’ replication cycle and render it harmless – a strategy that has worked in both HIV and Hepatitis C therapy. Craig’s research group has been focused on disrupting a type of protein structure, nicknamed a zinc finger, by searching for compounds that can disrupt the zinc fingers in a coronavirus protein that is critical for its replication.

The ultimate goal for both of our groups is for our research, even those findings that may be considered a failure, to advance the science so that pharmaceutical companies can take these compounds as leads and pursue further development.

Read More:
McDaniel’s Student-Faculty Collaborative Summer Research program

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