Northwell’s research branch rolls out three clinical trials to combat coronavirus spread

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Northwell Health's Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research has rolled out three clinical trials for its hospitalized patients. (Photo courtesy of Northwell Health)

With the number of people with confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States growing each day, Northwell Health’s research branch has rolled out three clinical trials in the ongoing efforts to combat the disease.

Dr. Kevin J. Tracey, president and CEO of Feinstein, said clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficiency of drugs and molecular medicine began earlier this week.

The research is being conducted jointly by Feinstein in conjunction with three biopharmaceutical companies: Gilead Sciences, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi. 

“We’ve joined with three outstanding companies to immediately begin clinical trials for patients now suffering from COVID-19 and are determined to do all we can to stop the virus in its tracks,” Northwell President and CEO Michael Dowling said.

The goal of these trials is to improve recovery and speed discharge of patients from hospitals, Tracey said.

“We truly just started rolling these trials out,” he said. “These studies are driven by the needs of the patients with the hopes of [the molecular medicine] being beneficial for their health in the long run.”

The joint efforts of Feinstein and Gilead will result in two trials that analyze the effects of remdesivir, an investigational antiviral drug designed to reduce the intensity and duration of the coronavirus in infected patients, according to Tracey.  Health officials said the first trial can accommodate up to 400 severe coronavirus cases globally.

The trial with Regeneron and Sanofi analyzes the human antibody with a molecule called sarilumab.  The molecule will analyze a cytokine called IL-6, which is thought to be important in the development of complications like pneumonia in some patients with the coronavirus, according to Tracey. 

“As history has shown from past pandemics, medical research will lead in our nation’s ability to reverse the fatal spread of viruses,” Tracey said. “We’re trying to analyze as much as we can with the resources we have to make the best decision for our patients.”

The trials, which are not currently available to the general public, are offered to patients currently admitted to Northwell hospitals, according to Northwell officials. 

Tracey did not provide the number of hospitalized patients who have participated in the trials.  According to Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, 39 county residents were hospitalized as of Saturday.

Tracey said a new department was established to have the institute work with representatives from Gilead, Regeneron, and Sanofi focusing solely on the clinical trials. The new department has more than 100 employees, all of whom worked around the clock this past weekend to ensure its establishment was conducted carefully.

Despite more than 100 employees sacrificing sleep and downtime over the past two weeks, Tracey said, morale throughout Northwell’s staff has been “terrific.”

“When you work with people in a battle or crisis scenario, there’s something about working on the front lines that makes it worth doing,” Tracey said. “We’re keeping plenty of back-up preparations in place since the impact of this virus is changing every day.”

When asked about Northwell’s status in terms of medical equipment, hospital beds, and other resources, Tracey said as of now, the hospitals have a sufficient supply.  He stressed the importance of funding proper scientific research going forward if another pandemic happens again.

“Right now, it’s like we’re fixing a house in the middle of a hurricane,” Tracey said. “Funding for the National Institutes of Health has not kept up with inflation for 17 years. That has certainly not helped in this situation.”

Despite the lack of federal funding for scientific research, Tracey remained optimistic and encouraged residents to do the same.

“There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful, the main one being that we will all get through this,” he said. “There are dedicated people in this office and others throughout the world who are collaborating to try and stop the spread of this virus.”

Northwell Health began manual testing for the virus March 5 and received permission to begin semiautomatic testing two days prior.

With the authorization of semi-automatic testing, which greatly increases Northwell’s capabilities, the criteria will most likely be loosened, Northwell Health Senior Vice President and chief spokesman Terrence Lynam said.

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