Not just RTP: The Triangle a leader in research for COVID-19 treatments, vaccine

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Most of us know what a vibrant research community we live in.

After all, it's anchored by the Research Triangle Park.

But you may still be surprised by the massive effort in the local biomedical industry to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

ABC11 found at least 18 companies, nonprofits, and universities connected in some way to COVID-19 research.

And that's very likely not all of them.

RELATED: Triangle woman on national panel to find COVID-19 treatments, vaccine

But it certainly explains the vibrant research and development environment that enticed RedHill Biopharma to move its headquarters from Israel to Raleigh three years ago.

"We looked at other areas of the United States and Raleigh stood out as the optimal location for our establishment," RedHill's chief operating officer told us by Skype from his home in Israel.

Gilead Raday says RedHill quickly realized a drug it was developing might be effective against the novel coronavirus.

That's because opaganib is not only an anti-viral but an anti-inflammatory.

"We found that opaganib indeed is a prime candidate given its unique profile and mechanism of action to hopefully help the patients with COVID-19 infection," Raday said, and he added that a handful of COVID-19 patients in intensive care at Israeli hospitals have been given the drug, which is also known by the brand name Yeliva.

Although it appears to have helped fight the virus and reduce inflammation in the lungs, testing will need to be dramatically expanded.

As RedHill works on that, another company with a lab in RTP and a plant in the Johnston County town of Clayton is working on an antibody treatment.

Grifols is trying to extract antibodies from the blood of infected patients who have recovered.

The company hopes it can then give those antibodies to sick patients to help them fight the novel coronavirus.

At the nonprofit Research Triangle Institute, they are conducting at least six different research projects on COVID-19.

There are also numerous companies and universities involved in finding new testing methods and vaccines.

And many, like RedHill, are excited about the prospect of research that could literally change the world.

"We'll continue to do our utmost to collaborate with the medical community and try to help by providing promising potential therapeutics to these patients," Raday noted.

To that end, RedHill announced Friday it has filed an application to be allowed to conduct clinical trials of its anti-viral and anti-inflammatory drug with COVID-19 patients in the United States.

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