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April 2020 Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
 
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GRA Chairman: State’s investment in scientists reaps big rewards


The current COVID-19 pandemic shows that Georgia’s past investments in its university scientists are paying off in a huge way, says GRA Chairman David Ratcliffe in an April 26 op-ed. “The COVID-related discoveries emerging from our universities are significant,” Ratcliffe writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Any one of them could be a game-changing answer, and all of them are contributing to the fight.” Ratcliffe credits the state’s foresight in sustaining the Georgia Research Alliance, noting that GRA Eminent Scholars and their teams “make up 5% of the university research workforce in Georgia – but account for 25% of the R&D grants brought to the universities.” The state is now poised to crack the top 10 in U.S. federal research funding. • Check out the column here >See an updated roundup of scientists’ contributions >

UGA Scholar repurposes drugs to treat COVID-19

A Massachusetts pharmaceutical company is conducting human testing of an existing cancer drug that’s been re-purposed by GRA Eminent Scholar Ralph Tripp to treat severe COVID-19. In his lab, Tripp and colleagues discovered that low doses of the drug selinexor inhibited production of the novel coronavirus by as much as 99% in monkey cells used to model human viral infections. Now, the pharma company Karyopharm has sped testing of the FDA-approved drug on hundreds of patients with severe COVID-19. “I am highly encouraged by these results and thrilled to see how quickly Karyopharm is able to test these scientific findings in patients,” Tripp says. He adds that he and colleagues have identified two other FDA-approved drugs that also have the potential to treat COVID-19. • Read the news release >

GA State scholar to begin evaluating potential COVID-19 drug compounds using Axion system

A connection forged by GRA is opening the door to new evaluation of potential drug compounds to treat COVID-19. After GRA introduced Axion Biosystems to GRA Eminent Scholar Chris Basler of Georgia State, Basler’s lab began using Axion technology in drug development experiments. (Axion’s Maestro platform allows for quick evaluation of many drug compounds at once on living cells.) On April 29, Basler and colleague Alex Jureka validated the system using the drug remdesivir. They found that remdesivir can completely prevent primate cell death from SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus. They now plan to use remdesivir — already shown to speed recovery in some patients with COVID-19 — as a control for comparing new compounds, with Axion technology. • Look for a feature on the partnership next month

Scientist adds antibody expertise to Emory

A highly regarded NIH scientist known for excellent communication skills has joined the Emory Vaccine Center as a GRA Distinguished Investigator. Rui Kong, whose research has helped drive informed decisions on which combinations of antibodies to test for preventing and treating HIV, came to Georgia earlier this year. A focus of his work is studying certain antibodies elicited in both infected and immunized subjects, then developing vaccines to induce these antibodies to fight HIV-1. Kong has also contributed to a pioneering method for screening a person's many different antibodies to accelerate the discovery of new therapies. • See Dr. Kong’s profile page at Emory >

Augusta Scholar IDs uterine cancer biomarker

A rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer called USC kills half of the women who get it — usually soon after diagnosis. But GRA Eminent Scholar Jin-Xiong She (above, left) and colleague Lynn Tran at Augusta University believe they may have found a biomarker to identify women with USC who are good candidates for clinical trials. The biomarker is actually a “score” for the high expression of 73 genes; women with high scores had the worst prognosis and lowest response to standard therapy, making them candidates for experimental treatments. • More on their research >

Georgia Tech invention occupies spotlight

Several media outlets reported this month on a tiny sensor developed at Georgia Tech that has greater monitoring capability than electrocardiograms, or EKGs. The ladybug-sized chip — wearable in clothing — records the sound and motion of both heart and lungs, turning them into readable electronic outputs. “EKGs only measure electrical impulses,” says GT Professor Farrokh Ayazi, “and EKGs also say nothing about lung function.” According to one article, the new monitor’s detection capability is extraordinary — it identifies movement and sound ranging from “broad, sweeping motions to inaudibly high-pitched tones.” Ayazi is bringing the technology to market through a startup company, StethX Microsystems, backed by GRA. • More > 

New coalition brings resources to battle virus

Georgia’s public officials on the front lines of fighting COVID-19 now have a strong ally comprised of corporate and nonprofit leaders in the state. The Global Health Crisis Coordination Center (GHC3) was launched in April to “provide real-time problem-solving and coordination during health-related crises,” including the current pandemic. Supported by an initial $1 million gift from the CDC Foundation and Microsoft, GHC3 has launched a COVID-19 “Incident Command” to mobilize resources. Led by Executive Director Ken Berta, GHC3 will operate under the existing Center for Global Health Innovation, headed by Maria Thacker Goethe. • Learn about the new center >

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