Viral infections, such as Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome/Middle East respiratory syndrome and West Nile virus have emerged as a serious health threat with no effective therapies. These infections have little commercial potential and are not a high priority for the pharmaceutical industry. However, the academic community has been active in this area for many years. The challenge is how to take this academic virology knowledge into a drug discovery and development domain. One approach is the use of consortia and public-private partnerships - this article highlights ongoing efforts in the USA. Public funds, such as those from government sources, can support research efforts that do not to appear to have commercial value. The key to success is finding a way to combine the different cultural and operational values and reward systems into a productive collaboration to identify new antivirals.