A long Covid collaborative kicks off with $15M to study causes of lingering disease, conduct clinical trials
The Covid-19 pandemic has left millions of people with lingering symptoms months after initial diagnosis, and none of the handful of biopharmas that have attempted to treat the so-called long Covid have succeeded yet.
A new collaboration — bringing together researchers from leading institutes in academia — will hone in on what the virus does to “drive chronic disease,” research how SARS-CoV-2 affects the immune system and what effects it could have on cognitive function, nerve signaling and other processes. The group also wants to dig into the root cause of the disease.
Under the umbrella of the Long Covid Research Initiative, the researchers will conduct studies of tissue biopsies, autopsies and imaging, blood-based biomarkers, as well as look at the virus’ downstream impacts on neuroinflammation and how the virus affects the microbiome and other pathogens.
Scientists and clinicians taking part in the program include a who’s who of infectious disease experts from Harvard, Stanford, UCSF, the J. Craig Venter Institute, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Mount Sinai, Cardiff and Yale. Leading the scientific apparatus will be Amy Proal, a microbiologist with research focused on infection-associated chronic fatigue syndrome, the group said Thursday.
Backing the initiative — which is part of the nonprofit PolyBio Research Foundation — is a pair of billionaires: Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin’s Balvi and repeat biotech entrepreneur and Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong, through his Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation. To kick things off, the collaboration has secured $15 million.
Vitalik Buterin (Yichuan Cao/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)
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The money will go toward research and eventually clinical trials of “antivirals, immunomodulators, targeted anticoagulants, and microbiome-based therapeutics,” the organization said in a statement. They are seeking more financial backing from additional philanthropists, the group said.
Down the road, the group’s “big picture,” as described in the launch announcement, is looking at how viruses impact chronic conditions, “positioning this work at the center of longevity research.”
One of the existing backers, Soon-Shiong, is already looking at long Covid.
Through his company ImmunityBio, the cancer and infectious disease biotech owner is attempting to create vaccines for the pandemic virus, after repeatedly getting in the ears of then-President Trump and his advisors in the early days of the pandemic, trying to shuttle a vaccine into clinical trials.
“I’m hopeful that our second generation vaccine not only covers prevention of infection, prevention of transmission but some form of addressing long Covid,” Soon-Shiong told Endpoints News in late May.
While a handful of Covid-19 vaccines, antivirals and monoclonal antibodies have made it to market, no therapies have been cleared for treating the virus’ long-term effects. PureTech and Axcella have both flunked mid-stage tests, but the latter still thinks it can get into late-stage testing. Other biotechs are also looking to get into the field, including Tonix Pharmaceuticals.