Research Foundation News

January 27, 2021

NSF grant aiding Purdue-affiliated startup’s work to treat COVID-19, stop future viral pandemics

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A Purdue University-affiliated startup is receiving national support to pursue a strategy to treat severe COVID-19 cases and possible future outbreaks involving other viruses.

Akanocure Pharmaceuticals Inc. has received a $256,000 Phase I research grant from the National Science Foundation.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, Division Director of the Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”

The startup, which has been working on technologies and drugs for people with hard-to-treat cancers, has been studying groups of molecules that show promise in fighting COVID-19 and other viruses.

“We felt a moral obligation to help as the world struggles with this deadly pandemic that has claimed lives and economies, so we submitted our pitch to the National Science Foundation and were invited in March of 2020 to submit a full proposal,” said Sherine Abdelmawla, Akanocure co-founder, CEO and Purdue Ph.D. alumna. “The project is targeting the group of COVID-19 patients who will develop severe illness featuring multiple organ dysfunction.

Abdelmawla said current research suggests that the multi-organ damage that occurs during COVID-19 infection is characterized by a complex abnormal immune response.

“In the process of fighting the virus, our body organs get attacked by our own immune system as collateral damage,” Abdelmawla said. “An ideal treatment would not only stop the virus from making more copies of itself but would also regulate the abnormal immune response.”

Akanocure will use the NSF funding to further study and develop AK-423, a broad-spectrum antiviral and immunomodulatory agent that is designed to stop the viruses from replicating and aid the immune system in providing an appropriate response.

“Our strategy was merited by the NSF for the fact that it is designed to not only address the current pandemic but to also address future threats with a mutated COVID-19 virus or with a totally different virus,” Abdelmawla said. “Our work is designed to ensure that the world will not be caught unprepared again if it is hit by a future viral threat.”

Akanocure is located in the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette.

The startup co-founders received assistance from the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurship and commercialization hub housed in the Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration in Purdue’s Discovery Park District, adjacent to the Purdue campus. Akanocure technology is licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

About Purdue Research Foundation

The Purdue Research Foundation is a private, nonprofit foundation created to advance the mission of Purdue University. Established in 1930, the foundation accepts gifts; administers trusts; funds scholarships and grants; acquires property; protects Purdue's intellectual property; and promotes entrepreneurial activities on behalf of Purdue. The foundation manages the Purdue Foundry, Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization, Purdue Research Park, Purdue Technology Centers and University Development Office. In 2020, the IPWatchdog Institute ranked Purdue third nationally in startup creation and in the top 20 for patents. The foundation received the 2019 Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Award for Place from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. For more information on licensing a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization at For more information about involvement and investment opportunities in startups based on a Purdue innovation, contact the Purdue Foundry at

About Purdue University

Purdue University is a top public research institution developing practical solutions to today’s toughest challenges. Ranked the No. 5 Most Innovative University in the United States by U.S. News & World Report, Purdue delivers world-changing research and out-of-this-world discovery. Committed to hands-on and online, real-world learning, Purdue offers a transformative education to all. Committed to affordability and accessibility, Purdue has frozen tuition and most fees at 2012-13 levels, enabling more students than ever to graduate debt-free. See how Purdue never stops in the persistent pursuit of the next giant leap at

About the National Science Foundation's Small Business Programs

America’s Seed Fund powered by NSF awards $200 million annually to startups and small businesses, transforming scientific discovery into products and services with commercial and societal impact. Startups working across almost all areas of science and technology can receive up to $1.75 million to support research and development (R&D), helping de-risk technology for commercial success. America’s Seed Fund is congressionally mandated through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The NSF is an independent federal agency with a budget of about $8.1 billion that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering.

Writer: Chris Adam, 

Sherine Abdelmawla,

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