Newswise — PHILADELPHIA — (Nov. 23, 2021) — The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has granted The Wistar Institute $4 million to fund COVID-19 research focused on understanding the impact of COVID-19 on certain at-risk populations and supporting the commonwealth’s preparation and emergency response planning for future pandemics. Wistar is a biomedical research leader in cancer, immunology, infectious disease, and vaccine development. The award is a bipartisan investment helmed by Governor Tom Wolf, the legislative leadership of Donna Oberlander, Kerry Benninghoff and Stan Saylor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Department of Human Services (DHS).
“For nearly two years, Pennsylvania, the nation, and the world have collectively endured a global pandemic the likes of which most have not lived through. While advances in vaccines and therapeutics have allowed us to make great strides in our fight against COVID-19 and our ability to keep people safe, we have a responsibility to learn all we can from this time so we are more prepared for potential public health risks that may come,” said Governor Wolf. “This project will allow us to look more closely at the impacts of this pandemic on those among us who are more vulnerable to the greatest risks of the pandemic, and I am grateful for this partnership that will bolster Pennsylvania’s ability to embed lessons of the last two years in future planning and preparation.”
“We are proud to leverage an all-Pennsylvania-based public-private partnership to tackle one of the most severe health crises ever seen, with the goal of bringing critical and timely solutions to all citizens of Pennsylvania and beyond. The Wistar Institute and its scientists are enormously grateful to our state lawmakers for their essential role in this bipartisan initiative,” said Dario Altieri, M.D., Wistar president and CEO, director of The Wistar Institute Cancer Center and the Robert and Penny Fox Distinguished Professor. “The funding we’ve received is a tremendous catalyst to the important work being done in response to COVID-19, and it will help position the commonwealth and our Philadelphia region at the forefront of the world fight against coronavirus, as well as other emerging threats.”
The Wistar Institute was issued a $4 million grant to study the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations like older Pennsylvanians, people with an opioid use disorder, and people who are HIV positive. Clinical trials designed to measure the impact of COVID-19 on identified populations will be supported through Philadelphia FIGHT, Prevention Point Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania in conjunction with Wistar. Dr. Luis Montaner, VP of Scientific Operations, Herbert Kean, M.D., Family Endowed Chair Professor and leader of the HIV Research Program at The Wistar Institute Vaccine & Immunotherapy Center, will lead the community outreach effort and enroll a clinical trial with the three subgroups and 100 people per category.
Information collected through the clinical trials will help policymakers better understand the impact of COVID-19 on these vulnerable populations as well as how they have been challenged and how they have endured since March 2020 given their disproportionate vulnerability and the general public health risk. The goal of this study is to provide insights and recommendations that can inform the commonwealth’s ongoing response to the pandemic and shape planning efforts to better prepare state and local response and protections for high-risk Pennsylvanians in future public health emergencies.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in different ways, but we know that its impacts have been felt most acutely by older Pennsylvanians and others whose co-occurring conditions or socioeconomic circumstances created greater risk. We must use this experience to better understand what we can do to protect vulnerable Pennsylvanians and not further exacerbate pre-existing health disparities,” said DHS Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “The Wistar Institute’s research will help us better understand the exact impact on the health and lives of people affected by COVID-19 so we can continue to support all Pennsylvanians on a path to good health and overall well-being. This research will be a valuable resource to inform policy and programs designed to assist and uplift vulnerable Pennsylvanians moving forward, and I look forward to the collaboration that will come.”
Pennsylvania’s investment, which is granted through DHS, will also support Wistar’s COVID-19 research that is early-stage and translational to develop programs that create second generation therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19; focus on pandemic preparedness for the next outbreak we may face and how to easily develop and deploy needed medicines for future pandemics; and recruit faculty who are top experts in the field of infectious diseases.
Wistar scientists are collaborating in early-stage and translational COVID-19 research programs to provide promising solutions to pressing issues of creating new and better therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19 and support the state’s emergency response to future emerging pathogens.
“Our members became aware of Wistar’s groundbreaking advancements when the House Majority Policy Committee traveled to the Institute and firsthand observed the learning and technologies being developed in early 2019,” said Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion/Armstrong/Forest) serving 63rd Legislative District. “The Philadelphia-based Wistar Institute has been actively engaged in COVID-19 research since the pandemic was first recognized and has made pioneering efforts to develop next generation COVID-19 vaccines. This investment will help all Pennsylvanians, but will also get our economy back on track. I’m happy that these efforts will continue with this investment.”
Work on this project is expected to be complete by June 30, 2022.