Director's Message: COVID-19 Update

It is almost July, and it is hard to believe we are halfway through a very challenging 2020, unlike any year we’ve ever encountered. Plans are cautiously and thoughtfully coming together for the next academic year. While our research labs continue to operate – often remotely and performing critical experiments, we are gearing up for the careful return of faculty, staff, trainees and later, education programs for our students. Our clinical cancer researchers, clinical oncologists and medical staff continue their heroic work and manage their risks conscientiously – proving that it can be done! COVID-19 remains serious and protective measures must be followed. At the cancer center, we continue to assist at all levels – with open shared resources, a backup supply of face shields for use during lab training efforts, support for online conferences and course efforts and, as always, support for multi-investigator grant preparation and submission. Just ask!

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) continues to offer flexibility in adjusting grants fund utilization (including training grants) and has a number of RFAs for additional support and supplements for COVID research. Please take advantage of these opportunities, it will pay off for your efforts in the future! We may also hear of supplement funds for lab-restart costs - we will let you know!

Yesterday, in my web conference with Dr. Anthony Fauci and all NCI-designated cancer center directors in the country, Dr. Fauci made the following points:

  • The cascade of a surge in cases across the country will, by fall, result in 5-20% exposure with variable levels of herd immunity which is not effective until it hits 70%, but will modulate downward the rate of a subsequent surge.
  • Treatments are improving outcomes modestly.
  • Masks are a must and are the most effective strategy at all times, with distance only complementing, not replacing, masks.
  • Completely asymptomatic individuals have the same viral load as those who become sick, making it difficult to use a surveillance questionnaire with efficacy.
  • Multiple vaccine options are coming and about 100,000 individuals will receive vaccinations by December under clinical trials. Before the FDA can release a vaccine, it needs to be shown to be safe, the major risk is enhancement of the immune response with a partially effective vaccine which could result in worse symptoms.
  • T-cell immunity may explain why antibody levels are not the best predictor of protection after infection.
  • Acalibrutinib may be effective in ameliorating the cytokine storm, in a study from NCI.
  • The NIH COVID-19 treatment guidelines are updated weekly.

To underscore the resilience of our research community, I wanted to share a few stories of members who adapted their research activities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. I also invite you to continue to share your thoughts and experiences with us – information can be found below. the stories.

Stan Gerson, MD
Director, Case Comprehensive Cancer Center