PHILADELPHIA (May 8, 2020) – Greater Philadelphia’s health care, science, and research institutions have quickly shifted resources and priorities to mobilize and make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. From working to develop a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 to investigating the capacity of CRISPR molecules to diagnose or treat COVID-19, the health care and life sciences community is making significant contributions to the COVID-19 response. Educational institutions and corporations are also employing technology to benefit frontline health care workers as they engineer, collect, and donate personal protective equipment including masks and respirators. Connected health technology is rapidly expanding, and companies are responding using technology to bring doctors and patients together virtually during the coronavirus crisis. The Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia’s CEO Council for Growth has compiled a list of just some of the contributions made by its partners, collaborators and stakeholders in the region’s Cell & Gene Therapy and Connected Health Initiative.
“Our region’s robust health care and life sciences ecosystem consists of world-class research institutions and laboratories, start-ups, and technology companies. It’s been two months since the World Health Organization announced COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, and in that relatively brief span these organizations have made significant science and technology contributions as part of the global response,” said Daniel J. Hilferty, CEO of Independence Health Group, and Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia.
Here is a compilation of some of the contributions, listed alphabetically within each category.
Vaccines, Testing, and Related Technologies
CSL Behring, headquartered in King of Prussia, Pa., has joined forces with other leading plasma companies to do their part in the development of a hyperimmune treatment by forming the CoVIg-19 Plasma Alliance. The Alliance is working to accelerate the development and delivery of a potential plasma-derived therapy for treating those with serious complications from COVID-19. Anyone willing to donate their plasma to help in the development of this treatment can go to www.COVIG-19PlasmaAlliance.com to find a plasma donation center near them. Additionally, CSL Behring partnered with SAB Biotherapeutics to combat the pandemic with the rapid development of SAB-185, a COVID-19 therapeutic candidate on track for clinical evaluation by early summer. This therapeutic candidate is a novel immunotherapy targeting COVID-19 delivering natural human polyclonal antibodies targeted specifically to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It is being developed and produced without the need for human blood plasma donations from recovered COVID-19 patients.
The Gene Editing Institute at ChristianaCare is ramping up its CRISPR/Cas research related to infectious disease including COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2. The Gene Editing Institute will use its proprietary Gene Editing on a Chip system to identify the products of viral breakdown after therapeutic treatment. The breakthrough system developed at the Gene Editing Institute enables the visualization of the broad range of breakdown products in cells after treatment with CRISPR. The system will be helpful in determining the most effective CRISPR molecule to completely destroy and inactivate viral products. This research will be led by gene editing pioneer Eric Kmiec, Ph.D., director of the Gene Editing Institute, and Brett Sansbury, Ph.D. candidate, who designed the innovative Gene Editing on a Chip system. research.christianacare.org/geneeditinginstitute
Sanofi and GSK (which has an R&D Hub at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia) announced a collaboration to develop an adjuvanted vaccine for COVID-19 using innovative technology from both companies. GSK will contribute its proven pandemic adjuvant technology, which may reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose and allow more doses to be produced. The collaborators expect to enter clinical trials in the second half of 2020. If successful, vaccines would be available in the second half of 2021. www.gsk.com/en-gb/media/press-releases/sanofi-and-gsk-to-join-forces-in-unprecedented-vaccine-collaboration-to-fight-covid-19
The Jefferson Vaccine Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia has a vaccine candidate, CORAVAX™, which builds on an existing safe and effective vaccine with well-established and active manufacturing hubs. CORAVAX™ is made from a portion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus – the spike protein – and a killed rabies vaccine as a ‘carrier’ for the virus of interest. According to Matthias Schnell, PhD, Director of the Jefferson Vaccine Center, “The benefit is that the ‘carrier’ vaccine has already been rigorously tested and shown to be safe and effective. There are manufacturing plants around the world already running and with the technological know-how to produce large quantities of that vaccine. We can leverage that efficiency and safety record.” hospitals.jefferson.edu/news/2020/04/a-new-coronavirus-vaccine-designed-to-meet-a-global-demand.html
On March 30, 2020, Johnson & Johnson announced the selection of a lead COVID-19 vaccine candidate from constructs it has been working on since January 2020, and expects to initiate human clinical studies by September 2020. The company anticipates the first batches of a vaccine could be available for emergency use authorization in early 2021, a substantially accelerated timeframe. The company also announced a significant expansion of an existing partnership between the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), and a rapid scaling of Johnson & Johnson’s manufacturing capacity with the goal of supplying more than one billion doses of a safe and effective vaccine worldwide for emergency pandemic use. For more information on Johnson & Johnson’s multi-pronged approach to combatting the pandemic, visit: www.jnj.com/coronavirus
The Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has the largest single-institution immunology community in the nation, numbering more than 200 experts who have harnessed the immune system to develop groundbreaking approaches to fight HIV and other infectious diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. Now those experts have focused their expertise and experience fighting SARS-CoV2 and the disease it causes, COVID-19. In early March, Penn founded the Center for Research on Coronavirus and Other Emerging Pathogens. The Center is working to expand and accelerate SARS-CoV-2 research at Penn, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and The Wistar Institute; provide centralized information on SARS-CoV-2 research developments; and compile information and catalyze opportunities for new funding for research on SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging pathogens. Susan Weiss, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, and Frederic Bushman, PhD, chair of Microbiology, are directing the Center.
Penn Medicine’s Scott Hensley, PhD, a professor of Microbiology, is leading a team studying SARS-CoV-2 antibodies among a variety of populations, including health care workers, COVID-19 patients and those who have recovered, with plans to study other types of front-line workers such as EMTs and police officers. This research will illuminate the role antibodies play in immunity to COVID-19. Penn researchers have also begun clinical trials of a DNA vaccine to prevent COVID-19 infection. Pablo Tebas, MD, Director of the Developmental Core in the Penn Center for AIDS Research, and Director of the AIDS Clinical Trial Unit (ACTU) research site, is leading the trial and working with a team that also includes researchers from The Wistar Institute. These projects, combined with a slate of clinical trials on new approaches to testing for and treating the virus, are vital to public health and to efforts to re-open economies and countries around the world.
Penn Medicine’s Predictive Healthcare team developed the CHIME (COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model for Epidemics) tool to help hospitals and governmental agencies plan to meet potential capacity challenges resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak. This publicly available tool helps model hospital utilization scenarios, each of which can play an important role in helping leaders evaluate and plan for deployment of resources. The tool provides a range of scenarios which can assist with planning and also demonstrate the effect mitigation efforts like social distancing can have on slowing the spread of the virus.
Researchers at Temple University Health System are engaged in several projects to fight COVID-19, overseen by Gerard Criner, MD, chair of the Department of Thoracic Medicine and Surgery and director of the Temple Lung Center. Efforts include studies to evaluate the effectiveness of an antiviral drug in patients with moderate and severe COVID-19, compared against the standard care treatment; work using an antibody created to treat rheumatoid arthritis to determine its impact on symptoms; and testing two compounds to assess their potential in suppressing virus replication. Marla Wolfson, PhD, professor and associate chair of the Department of Physiology, is exploring if therapeutic techniques used to prevent chronic lung disease in infants could benefit patients with COVID-19. In addition, Temple’s Liacouras Center was converted into a surge medical facility for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offering space for 250 patients in the event they need to move from city hospitals treating patients with COVID-19, and Temple’s Ambler Campus is the site of a Montgomery County coronavirus testing facility. www.temple.edu/coronavirus.
The Wistar Institute in Philadelphia is part of a team working to develop a vaccine against coronavirus 2019-nCoV. The collaboration, which includes Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc., headquartered in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania; VGXI, Inc. of The Woodlands, Texas; and Twist Bioscience of South San Francisco in California, is funded by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global partnership between public, private, philanthropic, and civil society organizations that work together to accelerate the development of vaccines against emerging infectious diseases. The vaccine, INO-4800, is being tested in healthy volunteers at sites in Philadelphia, and Kansas City, Mo. Wistar has also launched the Wistar Coronavirus Discovery Fund (wistar.org/give-join/areas-support/coronavirus-discovery-fund) to accelerate the full range of COVID-19 research projects its scientists are undertaking to advance vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics and create effective solutions that can be rapidly delivered to the public. Learn more at wistar.org.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and Ventilators
Philadelphia-based Aramark has redeployed its uniform manufacturing production lines to produce personal protective equipment for hospital workers and others in critical roles in the U.S. Among the PPE they are producing are respirator and medical masks, scrubs and isolation gowns. Aramark has already delivered the first shipment of scrubs and gowns, and production of respirator and medical masks begins in mid-July. www.aramark.com/about-us/news/aramark-general/manufacturing-ppe-covid-19
Several departments at Drexel University are drawing on their research and technology expertise and collaborating with the healthcare community to respond to the vital needs of healthcare workers. The Drexel University Center for Functional Fabrics, working in partnership with the Drexel University College of Medicine, is developing masks and respirators, utilizing 3D knitting machines. The work is led by Professor Genevieve Dion, a design scientist in Drexel’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and the center’s director. The Materials Science & Engineering Department within Drexel’s College of Engineering, in collaboration with researchers from Drexel’s School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, and College of Computing & Informatics, is creating face shields for several hospitals using 3D printers. The project is guided by Michele Marcolongo, Ph.D., who, in response to an urgent request from an emergency room physician, mobilized colleagues, students and others in the 3D printing community. In addition, faculty, staff and students at the Drexel University College of Medicine and the Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions collected and donated personal protective equipment, including N95 masks, surgical masks, scrubs and gowns, glasses and face shields, and hand sanitizers to local health care providers and hospitals in Philadelphia. Here’s a link to a story on the collection efforts: drexel.edu/now/archive/2020/March/Drexel-Collects-Coronavirus-related-Supplies-for-Donations. Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus website is another resource. (drexel.edu/now/coronavirus/related-stories)
Personal protective equipment for frontline workers is being mass produced at a rate of 3,500 shields per day by a volunteer team of University of Pennsylvania engineers, alums, and social entrepreneurs who have halted their business operations to meet the urgent need. The group is using 3D printing and injection molding to create the PPE. They are seeking individual and city, state, and federal funding to scale the effort. www.projectshields.org
To address the region’s ventilator needs, Villanova University College of Engineering Professor C. Nataraj, PhD, and a team of fellow engineering faculty, industry professionals and graduate students from the College of Engineering and the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing are working with medical experts from Geisinger Health System and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to design, develop, test and validate a low-cost ventilator (less than $800). Their purpose is to create a device that is safe, robust, scalable, and meets the minimum performance requirements for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. The engineering team has the goal of making the design, computer codes and assembly instructions open source. www1.villanova.edu/villanova/media/pressreleases/2020/0403-1.html
Connected Health Technology and Consumer Education
The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) is expanding the use of telehealth and video visits, when safe and appropriate, for physicians to stay connected with patients and families during the pandemic, offering an alternative to some in-person visits. CHOP Urgent Care is also available for video visits.
Comcast has implemented a number of initiatives in response to COVID-19 and is working to ensure residential and business customers remain connected in Philadelphia and in communities across the country. The company also is offering its Internet Essentials service for eligible low-income families to new customers complimentary for 60 days and its Xfinity WiFi hotspots located in businesses and outdoor locations across the country are available to anyone who needs them for free – including non-Xfinity internet subscribers. To help businesses stay productive and secure while working remotely, Comcast Business has partnered with industry leaders to provide extended free and discounted trials of apps and services, and business customers are eligible for 60-90 day trials of apps that include virtual project management, business text messaging and collaboration tools. To ensure customers are informed, Comcast is collecting the most current news and information on COVID-19 from the CDC and making it available to Xfinity TV customers who say “Coronavirus” into their voice remotes. NBCUniversal – in partnership with the White House, CDC, and Health and Human Services – has expanded its “The More You Know” Campaign with videos in English and Spanish to educate people about reducing risk and stopping the spread of the virus. And, the Philadelphia Flyers, in partnership with the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, donated Ozone sanitizing machines typically used to sterilize player equipment to General Motors to help with the company’s ongoing efforts to manufacture medical masks for front-line healthcare workers. corporate.comcast.com/covid-19
Coriell Life Sciences in Philadelphia, a bioinformatics company and leading provider of molecular test interpretation and reporting, is offering its coronavirus analysis and reporting services to laboratories throughout the U.S. at no cost during this period of public health crisis. “To speed our national response to stemming the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we feel we can contribute by creating a ready-made path for laboratories ramping up access to this testing.” said Scott Megill, President and CEO of Coriell Life Sciences. www.coriell.com/news/coronavirus-laboratory-reporting
HealthShare Exchange (HSX) is the region’s health information exchange, linking the electronic medical record systems of different hospital health systems and other healthcare organizations, and claims data of healthcare insurers, to make the information accessible at inpatient and outpatient points of care and for care management. In its mission to help make healthcare in Greater Philadelphia more informed and coordinated, HealthShare Exchange (HSX) is responding to the COVID-19 emergency with services to support clinicians and public health measures through its COVID-19 CONTAIN strategy. Taking advantage of its regional, centralized clinical database, HSX shifted staff and platform resources to provide real-time Smart Alert notifications to hospitals, physicians, and care managers when one of their patients has a COVID-19-related care encounter. HSX’s COVID-19 tracking and intelligence analytics are also supplementing information for the healthcare community, including the Pa. Department of Health and the City of Philadelphia’s 1Department of Public Health, on the outbreak’s trends, demographics, and patterns. www.healthshareexchange.org/news
Dr. Aditi U. Joshi is Medical Director of Jefferson Health’s telehealth platform, JeffConnect. In an article published March 20 on Jefferson’s HealthNexus, Dr. Joshi describes how the telemedicine tool is providing access to health care providers during the outbreak, training doctors to meet the increased volume, and how patients can prepare for the telehealth appointment. thehealthnexus.org/turning-to-telemedicine-in-the-wake-of-coronavirus/?utm_source=cv19banner
NeuroFlow, a Philadelphia-based behavioral health technology company, has created a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Risk Assessment and Anxiety Screener. The assessment tool utilizes best clinical practices and CDC guidelines to help individuals determine their COVID-19 risk level as well as address the elevated stress and anxiety resulting from the pandemic. The company has also compiled clinically validated resources, accurate information, and mental health resources to help providers and organizations support the behavioral health of their patients remotely. Here’s a link to their publicly available mental health & COVID-19 resources: www.neuroflow.com/coronavirusmentalhealth/
Quil Health, a partnership between Comcast and Independence Blue Cross, has launched a COVID-19 preparedness tool. Currently available by invitation to select partners and Independence Blue Cross members, it provides users with up-to-date data from trusted sources such as the CDC, as well as useful information such as a symptoms list, grocery shopping safety tips, advice on working from home, and caregiving. “The amount of information coming in about the pandemic can feel overwhelming,” said Carina Edwards, CEO of Quil. “Our tool helps people understand what they need to know and what to do next. It’s our way of helping, by giving people a sense of control and a gentle reminder that this can be managed.” quilhealth.com/covid-19
The AmerisourceBergen Foundation, a not-for-profit charitable giving organization focused on supporting health-related causes that enrich the global community, announced a contribution of more than $1 million to support communities, individuals and nonprofits impacted by the coronavirus. Grants will address the health, economic and psychosocial challenges resulting from the global pandemic. Also, the Foundation is matching AmerisourceBergen associate donations made to select nonprofits through a matching gift program, myCommunityImpact, by 200 percent.
Macquarie Investment Management committed $50,000 to Philabundance, one of the region’s largest relief organizations. The commitment follows a recent announcement by Macquarie Group to allocate $A20 million to the Macquarie Group Foundation to create a fund to make donations to a number of global and regional organizations that are working to combat COVID-19 and provide relief for its impacts. The fund will focus on addressing areas of immediate and medium-term need in regions in which Macquarie operates.
AmerisourceBergen and the Macquarie Group are partner companies in Greater Philadelphia’s Cell and Gene Therapy, Gene Editing, and Connected Health Initiative.
About Greater Philadelphia’s Cell and Gene Therapy, Gene Editing, and Connected Health Initiative
The Chamber, through its CEO Council for Growth, along with collaborating institutions, organizations and companies, has launched a multi-year initiative to leverage and promote Greater Philadelphia’s cell and gene therapy, gene editing, and connected health sectors. The objective of the initiative is to strengthen the region’s innovation economy through efforts including shared storytelling that builds awareness of the region’s assets, providing resources to start-up and scaling companies, assessing the talent needs of the sectors, and supporting the development of critical infrastructure for the sector’s growth. The initiative is supported by 11 partner companies, institutions and universities in the Greater Philadelphia region. For more information, visit www.ceocouncilforgrowth.com.