Turning on a Dime: Applying amfAR’s Research Expertise to COVID-19
Kevin Robert Frost, Chief Executive Officer, amfAR
As leaders in infectious disease research, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is uniquely positioned to participate in the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic by utilizing the experience and expertise we have acquired over 35 years of funding the most innovative and creative research on HIV/AIDS. After making a strategic decision to temporarily expand our efforts to include research on COVID-19, in April we launched the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19. Within the space of just a few weeks, the Foundation was able to orchestrate a pair of virtual international fundraising events to support the Fund, and in late July we announced our first grants for research on the novel coronavirus.
We’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to quickly pivot to answer critical new scientific questions or respond to emerging opportunities in the field of HIV research. So we’re pleased to be able to apply that same grant-making speed and flexibility to COVID-19 and to lend our experience, expertise and resources to the effort to halt this deadly new pandemic.
A common and often deadly consequence of advanced COVID-19 disease is acute kidney injury. Dr. Matthias Kretzler of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, will use a clever technique to understand what happens in the kidney of those with COVID-19. He aims to understand changes that occur in the kidney while the disease is getting worse and signs that indicate patients are on the mend. He will also develop a tool to predict who would most benefit from anti-inflammatory treatment.
A second grant was awarded to Dr. Daniel Kaufmann of the University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for a study of antibody responses to COVID-19. This grant allows amfAR to tap into the Quebec COVID-19 Biobank, established at the beginning of the pandemic to collect biological samples from patients admitted to the hospital. These banked samples will allow Dr. Kaufmann and his team to answer why some people develop antibodies and others do not, how we can predict whether those antibodies will protect against reinfection, and how long the protection will last. The results will provide valuable information to inform the design of vaccines.
Like the fight against AIDS, the fight to stop COVID-19 is not simply a struggle between us and a virus. It is a struggle against the inequities that enable both viruses to prey on certain, mostly marginalized, populations. Therefore, amfAR is also working to better understand and address these disparities as they relate to COVID-19. In early May, amfAR released one of the first studies quantifying the impact of COVID-19 on black communities in the United States. The study, which received widespread press coverage, compared COVID-19 cases and deaths in disproportionately black counties to all other U.S. counties. While disproportionately black counties constitute only 22% percent of U.S. counties and 13% of the population, they accounted for 52% and 58% of COVID-19 cases and deaths, respectively, at the time of the study.
Additional analyses exploring disparities in COVID-19 among Latino, Native American, other populations are needed. Currently, amfAR is building on this study and working to conduct these additional analyses.
amfAR’s mission remains unchanged – to end the global AIDS epidemic through innovative research. We still have 38 million people worldwide living with HIV and the need for a cure is as urgent as ever. While we continue to pursue a cure for HIV, we will supplement those efforts with research on COVID-19, particularly the intersection of these two diseases, for as long as this deadly new threat persists. When the threat of the coronavirus is lifted, we will close out these efforts and continue to dedicate ourselves exclusively to our mission of ending AIDS once and for all.