BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — A drug developed at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is helping doctors in China in their fight against the coronavirus.

The drug, Remdesivir, was developed to fight SARS, which had an outbreak in 2002, and MERS, which still exists in other parts of the world. Because those two viruses are similar to the new coronavirus, COVID-19, researchers believe it might be able to help treat COVID-19. It’s now being used in China for that purpose.

“The homology of the active site for SARS and for this new coronavirus are very, very, very similar,” Dr. Richard Whitley, a distinguished professor at UAB, said. “And so we were able to study very quickly and show that the drug Remdesivir is active against this new coronarivus.”

Whitley is the leader of UAB’s effort to develop drugs for emerging infections. His team is researching them with other universities as part of a grant. Whitley hopes the research will lead to treatments for many other diseases, including the flu.

“We will see a pandemic from influenza, it’s just a question of time,” he said. “And we’re not prepared for it. And so the lessons that we learn from coronavirus can be applied to hopefully the control of influenza in the future.”

Dealing with the current coronavirus outbreak, he says, can help researchers with diagnoses in the future. It also can help them manage quarantines better and make better drugs, the latter of which is the focus of the grant.

He hopes they’re as successful in developing drugs for other viruses as they were with Remdesivir.

“Hopefully this grant is going to get ahead of the curve. It did with Remdesivir,” Whitley said. “We now have to do it with influenza, chikungunya and the flaviviruses, particularly dengue.”