Zero to Sixty: The Wright Center’s rapid response to COVID-19

The Wright Center has been on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19 since March.

As Virginia Commonwealth University’s home for interdisciplinary human health research, the center is uniquely positioned to act as a bridge between the physicians, faculty, researchers and staff that are engaged in fighting the pandemic on multiple fronts.

And it’s done just that.

Before the government-mandated shutdown took effect, several proposed projects had been uploaded to VCU’s research management system run out of the Wright Center, OnCore. And center staff had activated to help shepherd protocols through the Institutional Review Board and other processes.

Arun Sanyal, M.D.

By late March, Wright Center Associate Director Arun Sanyal, M.D., had partnered with Gilead to bring remdesivir treatment trials to VCU. And on May 1, armed with data that VCU’s trial helped provide, the FDA issued emergency authorized use of the drug.

The Wright Center has worked diligently to prioritize and fast track other drug treatment trials based on the best available science and the drugs’ potential for large-scale efficacy. The center’s director, F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., leads a committee with several other center faculty that works to assess and evaluate proposed COVID-19 trials.

At least seven COVID-19 drug treatment trials have activated, many in record time. Trials that might take months to get off the ground have found approval within days, thanks to the Wright Center and staff at the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation (OVPRI).

Wright Center Associate Director Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D, is a lead on two studies that tackle the dangerous inflammatory response that COVID-19 patients sometimes experience:

F. Gerard Moeller, M.D.
  • Sarilumab, which was developed for rheumatoid arthritis, and
  • Canakinumab, which was developed to treat a series of rare auto-inflammatory diseases and a type of juvenile arthritis.

Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., a former KL2 scholar and now a member of Wright Center’s KL2 Oversight Committee, is involved in the latter trial. His and Abbate’s long-standing research into inflammation, supported in part by the Wright Center, has been crucial to VCU’s ability to bring cutting-edge treatment to its patients during COVID-19.

In May, with the help of Wright Center Clinical Research Unit staff, clinical trials for some of the experimental COVID-19 treatment drugs were expanded to VCU Health’s Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, Virginia, expanding access to those drugs.

Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D.

In addition to the drug treatment trials, the Wright Center has worked to fast track projects like a potential treatment for COVID-19 using the plasma of coronavirus survivors. More than a dozen registries for analyzing COVID patient data and vitals are underway. And multiple technologies and devices that fill critical equipment needs are in development or pending approval.

The Wright Center’s informatics team, under the leadership of Tamas Gal, Ph.D., MBA, which helps compile and analyze clinical data, has re-oriented their programming projects toward registries, surveys, portals and application processes, like a survey for those who might’ve noticed a change in their smell or taste abilities – one of the virus’ symptoms.

Feeding all this new research is an influx of funds flowing toward virus-related projects.

The Wright Center contributed $100,000 to the OVPRI’s COVID-19 rapid research funding opportunity, which has yielded grant awards to 31 recipients, including several clinical and translational science projects. Wright Center KL2 Scholar Guizhi “Julian” Zhu, Ph.D., was one of those recipients, for his work on a simple, at-home vaccine delivery mechanism.

The Wright Center staff and research administrators continue to contribute the research infrastructure and compliance expertise to projects that seek to fill worldwide gaps in equipment supply.

3D printed ventilator
The 3D-printed ventilator created by an interdisciplinary team connected by the Wright Center. (Photo courtesy of Trevor Beck Frost)

The Wright Center was instrumental in connecting interdisciplinary researchers and clinicians for a 3D-printed ventilator, the plans for which will be made freely available. And Wright Center Researcher Stephen L. Kates, M.D., helped develop a sterilization pilot program to safely decontaminate N95 masks for VCU Health employees.

OVPRI, in collaboration with the Wright Center, is foregoing certain typical licensing fees during the pandemic in order to facilitate the research and development that will help combat COVID-19 collaboratively.

Annual Clinical Trials Day took on a new meaning this year, as the community rallied around healthcare providers. A COVID-19 patient in a trial run by Abbate told her story, and Abbate, Joan Greer, and Lauren Harris discussed clinical trials for a public audience.

Similarly, Wright Center researchers have acted as experts for media outlets – providing a crucial science-based perspective for the community during this public health crisis. Among others:

Much of the research that was underway when COVID-19 hit has been paused, and the Wright Center worked with OVPRI to create research continuity guidance, so that researchers would have some template for adapting their important work.

Many studies have adapted using telehealth technologies that Wright Center has led the way in. Richard Sterling, M.D., whose research has been heavily supported by the Wright Center, spoke to VCU News about telehealth in the time of a pandemic, as doctors and patients sought alternatives to in-person visits and checkups.

Suffice it to say, the Wright Center has made VCU’s rapid response to COVID-19 possible – in more ways than one.

WATCH: Antonio Abbate and Joan Greer in conversation with Lauren Harris for Clinical Trials Day

Lauren Harris, Wright Center’s hub research capacity administrator, interviews Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., the medical director of the Clinical Research Unit and an associate director at the Wright Center, and Joan Greer, R.N., nurse manager at the Clinical Research Unit at VCU Health.

Abbate and Greer answer your questions about clinical trials participation and what it’s like running clinical trials during a pandemic – in honor of Clinical Trials Day on May 20.

 

Full transcription below:

Lauren Harris (00:06):

Good afternoon. Thank you all for taking the time out of your day to come and speak with me this morning about clinical trials. As we all know, and the world may also know, that international clinical trials day is coming up on May the 20th. This is truly a time for us to thank our clinical research, trial coordinators, our nurses, our doctors, anyone who helps in getting clinical trials off the ground. International Clinical Trials will be celebrated across the world, not only from VCU and VCU Health, but across the globe. We will all be telling you thank you for your hard work and your dedication that you all put into this. Surrounding this, this day allows us also to broadcast some of the clinical trials that we have going on here at VCU and VCU Health. So today with me, I have. Dr. Antonio Abbate who is the director of the clinical research unit here at VCU Health and Joan Greer, who is the nurse manager on the North 8 floor for the Clinical Research Unit. Thank you guys. Read More

Now, more than ever: Clinical Trials Day 2020

 

Patient-centric care means patient-centric research. And that’s what the Wright Center and VCU Health do.

International Clinical Trials Day on May 20 celebrates the tireless work of the doctors, nurses and staff that make clinical trials happen. And it’s a chance to encourage patient participation in clinical trials.

On May 20, 1747, Scottish physician James Lind conducted the first clinical study of the treatment of scurvy on 12 sailors. Lind discovered that, of six therapies, oranges and lemons had the greatest positive effect on sailors’ health.

Today at VCU there are 492 active clinical trials with 5,347 participants enrolled, including several testing COVID-19 drugs like canakinumab and sarilumab.

Clinical trials advance research and medicine for all. And now, more than ever, we see the role that clinical trials can play in advancing public health. Trials at VCU like those of remdesivir have already contributed to what we know about COVID-19 and how we can treat it.

What can I do?

Members of the community and patients can:

  • talk to your doctor about clinical trials
  • search the Wright Center’s StudyFinder for current studies
  • sign up for ResearchMatch to get notifications about future studies
  • follow the VCU Clinical Trials Facebook to read about recruiting studies
  • post your support of clinical trials participation and those that make it possible with #CTD2020 and tag Wright Center’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Doctors and researchers can:

  • inform your patients about ongoing clinical trials
  • talk to them about resources like StudyFinder and ResearchMatch
  • post your support of clinical trials participation and those that make it possible with #CTD2020 and tag Wright Center’s Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn

Read More

VCU Health news, “From darkness to light: COVID-19 survivor shares her story as a patient and clinical trials participant,” May 20, 2020

Richmond Magazine, “Play your part,” May 1, 2020

VCU News, “Cancer survivor advocates for clinical trial participation,” March 29, 2019

Watch More


International Clinical Trials Day!

The Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research sponsored the International Clinical Trials Day event on May 19th at the VCU Gateway Building. Visitors, patients, and staff learned about the history of clinical trials, how to navigate StudyFinder-the central point for enrolling in clinical trials, and discovered how research is changing patients lives!  “I have seen so many patients being positively impacted by Clinical trials and everyone in VCU Health systems works hard to make sure that is always the reality.  Happy International Clinical trials day.” Sofanit Almaw Dessie Our staff and clinical trial participants are true heroes-making advances every day in research to improve patient outcomes! To make a difference, get involved in research, or find out about exciting clinical trials go to: https://studyfinder.cctr.vcu.edu/

Clinical Trials Awareness Week May 2-6, 2016

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AFPA_CTAW_Logo_FinalWhether you’ve taken a medication today to manage a chronic disease or simply to keep a headache at bay, you know that medical innovations have the power to change lives.

But these breakthroughs don’t just happen. Developing new medicines is a lengthy and complex process, relying heavily on volunteer participation to evaluate potential therapies for safety and effectiveness in clinical studies. Without the patients who volunteer to participate in clinical trials, the development of new medicines would not be possible.

During Clinical Trials Awareness Week, May 2 – 6, 2016 we recognize the individuals who have made new, innovative treatments a reality for patients worldwide – clinical trial researchers and participants. By shining a spotlight on these unsung heroes, we can raise awareness about the importance of participating in a clinical trial.

Clinical trials may benefit participants by providing them the opportunity potentially to receive an investigational drug that is not available to people outside the trial. In addition, they may receive treatment from a clinical research team that provides careful oversight of their medical condition. Also, many participants report great satisfaction playing a key role in advancing medical science and helping scientists find new treatments that will help more people live longer, healthier lives. The Center for Information and Study on Clinical Research Participation (CISCRP) reports that 95 percent of clinical trial participants would consider joining a future clinical trial.

Everyone should have access to helpful information about clinical trials and the opportunity to determine if participating in a clinical trial is the right choice for them. Visit our VCU Clinical Trials Facebook page and join the CCTR in spreading the word about the importance of clinical trial participation.