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Donor support funds COVID-19 pilot projects at UMMS

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, more than 19 UMass Medical School labs immediately shifted their focus to conduct research into SARS-CoV-2 and related viruses. To enable philanthropists to support that work, the COVID-19/Pandemic Research Fund at UMMS was created.

More than $650,000 in donations made to this new fund were unrestricted, allowing UMMS much-needed flexibility to support initiatives quickly.

“Many researchers at the medical school pivoted their research to COVID-19, highlighting the unprecedented need that this pandemic poses,” said Katherine Fitzgerald, PhD, chair of a review committee that evaluated proposals for funding from this new philanthropic effort. “I am grateful for the generous contributions from our donors and encourage those who can give to support the important work that is being done at UMass Medical School.”

Researchers from across the Medical School responded with 41 proposals, ranging from establishing new animal models for studying the virus, to investigating anti-viral agents, and understanding how the immune systems responds to the novel invader.

“The quantity and quality of the applications was impressive,” said Dr. Fitzgerald, PhD, the Worcester Foundation for Biomedical Research Chair, professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, and director of the Program in Innate Immunity. “The science presented was high quality. The grants were creative and exciting.”

A panel of seven reviewers across multiple departments evaluated proposals and scored them based on scientific merit and relevance to advancing understanding of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. Priority was given to those who had not received other recent pilot grants.

Ultimately, 13 projects garnered funding from the unrestricted monies. The grants are being used to support salary and supplies to gather preliminary data on SARS-CoV-2.

“The goal of these grants was to provide funds for immediate work on COVID-19,” said Fitzgerald. “This will advance the science to a position where investigators are then able to apply for NIH or foundation funding with some preliminary data.”

Among the projects funded were strategies for active and passive immunotherapy design; a new core for modeling COVID-19 disease; and projects to look at stem-cell derived therapies, cross-reactivity of COVID-19, protease inhibitors, inflammation and acquisition of immunity.