Missouri Researchers Responding to COVID-19: July 2020 Updates

In April, MOST Policy Initiative partnered with Missouri Cures Education Foundation in hosting the Missouri Fighting COVID-19 Virtual Briefing with prestigious scientists and doctors across Missouri. The video received great feedback, so we have gathered updates on how Missouri researchers are responding to COVID-19 this summer.

Dr. Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., treats patients for infectious diseases and is a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, Allergy and Immunology, at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

His lab at St. Louis University is part of the Adaptive COVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT). ACTT is a group of dozens of research labs across the globe working to rapidly obtain robust information on COVID-19 treatments and therapies.The first phase of study evaluated if the drug ‘remdesivir’ was an effective treatment for COVID-19. The results from phase one were released in May and they showed that remdesivir was an effective treatment because it reduced the amount of time that patients were in the hospital with COVID-19. Phase 2 of this research study is now underway comparing remdesivir alone to remdesivir combined with another drug, ‘baricitinib’. Results are pending, but are expected to be released soon.   

St. Louis University’s Dr. Sarah George working on remdesivir treatment trial Phase 1.

Moderna is a company producing a COVID-19 vaccine that shows a lot of promise, Dr. Hoft said. His lab will be working with a large consortium to complete phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine efficacy trials.

Philip Payne, Ph.D., director, Institute for Informatics and a professor of medicine and of computer science and engineering at Washington University said there’s been several key updates since the COVID-19 virtual briefing. 

“We have started the development of a regional dashboard for COVID relevant data, which is being co-developed with the four county and city public health departments that make up the STL MSA,” he said. 

Through their partnership with the Regional Data Alliance, they have begun the deployment of a streamlined electronic case reporting system, allowing for both more rapid notification of public health officials when new cases are identified, as well as regional “hot spotting” such as finding new clusters of infections, Dr. Payne said. “We are leading a national data sharing effort to create a synthetic data set for COVID research, engaging the NIH-funded CTSA consortium, which will accelerate researcher access to large-scale data as are needed to model COVID incidence and treatment response/outcomes.”

Michelle Altrich, Ph.D., is president of Viracor Eurofins, based in Lee’s Summit, MO. They provide specialized expertise in infectious disease, immunology, transplant, and allergy testing for immunocompromised and critical patients. She said they have been able to leverage their partnerships with Eurofins to offer more capacity for COVID testing to their clients during the recent surge in testing needs. 

Testing for COVID-19 has evolved in the past two months with a surge in the need for testing that has outpaced our capacity, she said. Since Missouri and the United States as a whole has increased testing, Viracor has increased the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing. “We have been surprised by the lack of interest in antibody testing,” Dr. Altrich said. 

She said, they are “looking to add more personal resources to our team to support increases in COVID testing needs.”

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