Sometimes it takes an emergency
COVID-19 prompts CCTSI to launch new pilot award program and support four innovative projectsWendy Meyer | CCTSI May 1, 2020
“When it became apparent coronavirus was going to become a gigantic clinical and societal problem, and we knew at the time very little about the virus, prevention and treatment, we thought this was an opportune time for the CCTSI to really fulfill its mission of accelerating translational research,” says CCTSI Director Ronald Sokol, MD.
CCTSI leaders quickly drew up the details of the program, released the RFA on Monday evening, March 30 and closed the application process on Friday, April 3. “All the applications went through the same review processes required by our other pilot awards, which usually take four months. This took 12 business days!” says Debra Szuster, MA, pilot program coordinator.
Everyone involved was committed to speeding the process. Over the weekend the team conducted two peer-reviews of 55 applications by a large group of reviewers. On Tuesday the group held a study section section via Zoom to discuss the applications, and from there the group selected four projects that seemed the most able to respond to the urgent need for COVID-19 research in the clinical setting.
“I think it demonstrates the power of the resources the CCTSI has assembled over the years to be able to rapidly respond to an urgent need and pull together appropriate expertise on campus and affiliated institutions to contribute,” says CCTSI’s Administrative Director Tim Lockie, MBA, MS.
One of the four awardees is J. David Beckham, MD, associate professor of infectious disease. His says his “…overall goal is to distribute COVID-19 convalescent plasma to regional hospitals to treat patients in the hospital with COVID-19. Convalescent plasma, or plasma from patients that have recovered from COVID-19, may contain antibodies that can help fight COVID-19 in sick patients in the hospital.”
The support from the CCTSI grant will help him get the system started, develop the databases to study what happens to the patients after treatment and help provide initial support to develop antibody tests.
The other awardees include Anna Maw, MD who plans to use ultrasound as an alternative to chest x-rays in diagnosing and monitoring COVID-19 lung involvement; Brian Montague, DO who aims to validate the use of serologic testing in healthcare workers to assess for the risk of exposure to SARS-CoV2; and David Prawel, PhD who will study additive manufacturing of certified PPE as a path toward mass production. Dr. Prawel is on the research faculty of Colorado State University; the rest of the awardees have appointments at CU Anschutz.
“In order to be successful, more understanding is needed regarding the timing of when antibodies develop and how long the antibody response persists,” Dr. Montague says. He will survey participants to understand the extent of their exposures, to identify high risk groups for infection and to determine what portion may develop infection with no associated symptoms. He notes that his work seeks to align with broader efforts on campus to develop a biobank to support ongoing research in this area.
One of the reasons that some of the researchers were so far along in their work—though they only had four days to submit their application—is that they started planning their research months earlier when they observed the impact the novel coronavirus was having in China. By the time the CCTSI issued its RFA, these scientists had already been planning their research to address the problem.
“It really lifted my spirits when I realized how forward-thinking some of these researchers were in thinking about how to treat COVID-19, how to manage it and how to get through this,” Szuster says.
Dr. Sokol says special acknowledgement should go to Debra Szuster and Drs. Janine Higgins and Natalie Serkova for their work to organize and issue the grants so quickly. He continues, “The fact that we could release this RFA and in 12 days could be giving out awards, especially under these remote working circumstances, is remarkable. Sometimes it takes an emergency to get things done very, very quickly!”