Democratic lawmakers urge funding for potential COVID-19 treatment

Two Democratic members of Congress are asking the federal government to increase funding for a potential stopgap preventative treatment for COVID-19.

Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Katie Porter are calling for research into the use of antibody-rich COVID-19 immune globulins (COVID-IG), taken from the blood plasma of recovered patients, as a potential treatment to prevent infection. They say public health experts believe COVID-IG injections can be used to protect individuals who have not been exposed to coronavirus, or for those who may have been exposed but have not yet exhibited symptoms. 

“As cases of the coronavirus skyrocket in parts of the country, identifying all possible prevention and treatment strategies that are available to us is essential,” the lawmakers said in a statement. Noting that the Trump administration has already set up public-private partnerships to speed research for a COVID-19 vaccine, they argue that “we cannot abandon investments in additional options that may save lives before a vaccine becomes readily available.”

In a letter sent today to Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Gary Disbrow, acting director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the lawmakers requested that federal funds be allocated to conduct research and testing of COVID-IG injections as a prophylactic for coronavirus.

“The scientific community sees a clear possibility for COVID-IG injections to confer some level of immunity or to help improve immune response in individuals not yet infected with COVID-19,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “As such, the Trump Administration must fund more clinical trials across the country for this procedure.”

CBS News chief medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook says that this treatment is similar to the approach used “to prevent illness in people exposed to other viruses, such as hepatitis, measles and varicella [chicken pox].”

At a recent Senate hearing, top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the treatment, an upper-arm injection that functions like a vaccine, is “a very attractive concept.”

Krishnamoorthi and Porter suggest that few companies are applying for funding from the Food and Drug Administration for this kind of treatment because funding streams have been concentrated on efforts for a vaccine.

“We have been made aware of preventative COVID-IG injection proposals that were rejected by BARDA in early March,” the two said in their letter. “We ask that the agency reconsider these and future proposals.”

The letter also cites a Pentagon-funded clinical trial in the state of New York with frontline healthcare workers to study the use of immune globulins as a preventative for individuals at high risk of exposure to COVID-19. The Department of Defense provided $34.6 million for the study, and intends to use the research from this trial to look at possible preventative treatments for military personnel. The lawmakers say there has been “little discussion of this treatment being available to everyday Americans if proven successful.”

A similar therapeutic has also proven to be safe and effective in treating coronavirus. Convalescent plasma treatments, in which blood plasma from people who have recovered from COVID-19 and whose immune systems have produced antibodies, has been shown to speed the recovery of ill patients. Over 40,000 COVID-19 patients in the United States have received convalescent plasma through the national Expanded Access Program, led by the Mayo Clinic and sponsored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Representatives Krishnamoorthi and Porter are requesting that HHS and BARDA provide a written summary of plans to allocate funding for clinical trials, or requests to Congress to appropriate federal funding for such trials, by July 30, 2020.

Read their letter here:

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