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Philanthropy powers research during worldwide pandemic

Posted on Jun. 30, 2020 ( comments)

As a community-based research center, MultiCare’s Institute for Research and Innovation (MIRI) gives patients access to cutting-edge clinical trials close to home. Teams at MIRI provide access to promising new treatments and consistent follow-ups, regardless of insurance limitations or other barriers to paying for care.

“We bring various clinical trials and other interventional type research studies to our health care system and community that we feel are important to our communities and the way we deliver medicine,” Anne Reedy, Vice President of Research at MultiCare, says. “Our work is to improve patient care outcomes first while also advancing science.”

When the coronavirus (COVID-19) hit Washington state, MIRI immediately recognized that research would be critical to finding potential treatments and preventions for the communities they serve, even as far as the Inland Northwest.

“Our team quickly developed a strategic plan to prioritize trial opportunities which would have the biggest impact on our communities. Given treatment of COVID-19 would be an immediate need, we prioritized antiviral and other treatment trials that were aimed at symptom management,” Stacie Rebar, Director of Clinical Research, says.

In March, MultiCare facilities in the Puget Sound and Inland Northwest regions became some of the first sites for trials using the drug Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients with moderate or severe symptoms. Because of their previous research relationship with Gilead Sciences, the trials were up and running in less than two weeks from the time they were approved -- a significantly short turnaround.

“To put it into perspective, normally when a sponsor reaches out to see if we are interested in hosting a clinical trial, from that point of interest to the drug being on-site and enrolling patients it takes around six to nine months,” Anne says.

The trials have been highly effective. A majority of those treated with Remdesivir have been discharged from the hospital.

“Results of the trials have already begun to spread among the health care community across the globe in a matter of hours, which has never happened prior to this pandemic,” says Vinay Malhotra, MD, one of the trial’s principal investigators. “What used to take weeks to be published in a medical journal is now being shared almost immediately in phone calls and updates through the World Health Organization.”

Another treatment that has been implemented by MIRI, led nationally by the Mayo Clinic, is the use of convalescent plasma. Convalescent plasma has been used for over a century to treat various infectious diseases like Ebola and influenza. COVID-19 patients who consent to the treatment receive a transfusion of plasma donated by someone who has recovered from the disease and since tested negative.

“One of the ways that the body can fight viruses is by developing antibodies that can destroy the invading microorganism,” says Scott Meehan Jr., MD, the program’s primary investigator for MultiCare’s Puget Sound region hospitals. “These antibodies are present in the blood, specifically in the plasma of the blood. This has worked in previous outbreaks of respiratory diseases like influenza.”

Just one donation of plasma can help two to four patients suffering from COVID-19, 24 MultiCare patients have already received transfusions.

In addition to clinical trials aimed at identifying new therapeutics, MultiCare researchers are also designing and launching their own investigator initiated trials that are evaluating improving the way care is delivered and/or accessed by patients. For example, Jeffrey Lio, MD partnered with MIRI researchers to design and launch a study that he hopes will prevent COVID-19 patients from needing the assistance of a ventilator.

The role of generosity in medical research

Research is critical, especially in the current climate of a pandemic. But funding is hard to come by.

“Several of our research studies like the study with convalescent plasma and/or the prone positioning study are not funded by external sources or sponsors,” Anne says “On occasion the product is donated to MIRI however the resource and manpower necessary to design and prepare for the study, consent study participants, gather data from patients and analyze and report on the findings are not funded. We do it because we need data to inform future practice in healthcare delivery and product use. Research is a critical pathway to informing providers on the best practices and outcomes in treating our patients”  

This is where philanthropy can fill the gaps. The MultiCare COVID-19 Response Fund established in March, has allocated $50,000 to support research efforts. This funding allows care providers to focus on finding the best treatment for their patients, and for patients to focus on their healing.

As COVID-19 research progresses and vaccine trials begin, MIRI will continue to be on the forefront. They anticipate being able to offer more trials in 2020 and beyond.

“A well-established community research program is a true gift in any community,” Anne says. “MIRI is here when you need it. Whether you have cancer, or a rare disorder, or an infectious disease. When facing a new, novel coronavirus or a new diagnosis of a chronic or life threatening condition, most people want as many treatment options as available. It’s wonderful to know that MultiCare is able to provide access to cutting edge treatment trials to all of our patients, offering the best possible care, close to home.”  

You can support COVID-19 research at MultiCare by making a gift.

About The Author

Kortney Scroger

Kortney Scroger is a communication specialist for the MultiCare Foundations. She writes stories that connect readers to the impact of giving. You can reach her at [email protected].

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