MultiCare recognizes team for innovative COVID-19 treatment
MultiCare Health System announced the Diane Cecchettini Excellence in Research Award winners at the organization's 6th Annual Research Day, held Friday, Oct. 16, 2020.
The award is named for former MultiCare President & CEO Diane Cecchettini, whose legacy of leadership and support cemented MultiCare’s remarkable longstanding commitment to community-based research.
The onset of COVID-19 in Washington State and world-wide completely upended health care on a historic scale not seen since the 1918 influenza pandemic that killed 50 million people. This year’s recipients were recognized for their collaborative work to advance patient care at an unprecedented time of crisis and chaos.
The research prize was awarded to a diverse team from across several MultiCare institutions, including Vinay Malhotra, MD, a cardiologist with MultiCare Pulse Heart Institute; Daniel Coulston, MD, a pulmonolgist with MultiCare Rockwood Clinic; Scott Meehan, MD, apulmonologist with MultiCare Pulmonary Specialists - Tacoma; and Dr. Kambiz Parcham-Azad, MD, a hospitalist at MultiCare Auburn Medical Center; as well as Jeannie Nielsen, RN, from Patient Blood Management; Hannah Gubitz, RN, Clinic Research Coordinator; Stacie Rebar, Director of Clinical Research for MultiCare’s Institute for Research & Innovation; and the entire Research Institute team.
“At the onset of the pandemic, with no known treatments for COVID-19, we quickly recognized that research would be critical to gaining access to experimental treatments,” said Rebar. “When we reached out to our physician-researcher base, their immediate response and support were beyond tremendous.”
MultiCare research drives significant impact on patient care
A few weeks into the new year found Dr. Malhotra focused on his busy clinical practice as a cardiologist at Pulse Heart Institute. When the Research Institute put out the call for help, he didn’t hesitate to volunteer his time and expertise. Dr. Malhotra had already served as a principal investigator for dozens of clinical trials. For Dr. Malhotra, leading a research protocol was the natural way to approach a deadly new virus.
Backed by decades of experience conducting hundreds of clinical trials, the Research Institute was able to ramp up swiftly. The quickly-assembled team reacted with lightning speed to consider a range of clinical trials and protocols to treat COVID-19.
The team’s dedication and tireless efforts meant that innovative treatments like Gilead Science’s antiviral drug, remdesivir, and the use of convalescent plasma were available to critically ill patients in MultiCare hospitals in the Puget Sound and Inland Northwest regions.
“As practitioners who both conduct research and treat patients, our team felt it was essential to be able to bring these innovative therapies directly to our community,” noted Dr. Malhotra, who also won MultiCare’s Outstanding Research Investigator Award.
Multidisciplinary team approach to combat novel coronavirus
MultiCare’s ability to procure and offer emergency treatment options like remdesivir and convalescent plasma reflects a strong collaborative spirit across the entire health system.
Building on initial studies out of China, the Mayo Clinic had initiated a national program to make convalescent plasma (CP) widely available as a treatment option. Using CP as a treatment for disease dates back centuries. When CP is used to treat patients with diseases like measles, the donated blood from recovered patients contains antibodies developed by the body’s immune system than can fight off infection.
Dr. Parcham-Azad knew he needed to act quickly for MultiCare to be part of the Mayo Clinic’s “expanded access” program.
“The support from MIRI was extraordinary,” said Dr. Parcham-Azad. “Working at neck-breaking speed, we joined forces with clinicians at Tacoma General, Good Samaritan, Allenmore, and the Rockwood Clinic in Spokane. It was no small feat that we were able to quickly put together a protocol for approval required by multiple regulatory agencies.”
“It was a wild ride as the regulations kept changing, sometimes by the day,” added Nielsen. Her job in Patient Blood Management meant navigating a highly monitored and complex network of regulations required to obtain and use blood products.
Born and raised in Tacoma herself, Nielsen was thrilled to be part of something tangible that was directly helping patients in her community who were seriously ill with COVID-19.
“The community response was so powerful, overwhelming,” she recalled. “Knowing recovered patients were eager to step up to donate plasma and help others in need was a truly amazing experience.”
“Our research is never finished”
To date, 292 patients across MultiCare hospitals have received convalescent plasma or remdesivir during their course of treatment for COVID-19. Given the robust data collected at MultiCare and from sites across the United States, the FDA recently granted convalescent plasma an Emergency Use Authorization, giving patients around the country more options for access to CP. MultiCare’s participation in the remdesivir studies also led to the first FDA-approved drug to directly fight COVID-19.
Lead researchers, Drs. Parcham-Azad, Coulston, Meehan, and Malhotra are designing new studies to learn more about treatments like CP and remdesivir and how they can improve clinical outcomes for their patients.
“We are proud to be part of an institution like MultiCare that values clinical research and cutting-edge patient care,” adds Dr. Parcham-Azad. “When our own knowledge level goes up, the level of patient care advances dramatically. Now we build on it.”
Learn more about clinical trials sponsored by MultiCare Institute for Research & Innovation.
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