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COVID-19 Antibody Therapy Developed

Dr. James Crowe: A COVID-19 Antibody Therapy Developed by Vanderbilt Shows Promise in Neutralizing the Effects and Spread of the Virus

At the forefront of battling the pandemic are men and women working diligently to find a cure for COVID-19. At Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, a team of researchers is on the leading edge of developing an antibody therapy to stem the spread of the virus until a vaccine becomes available. Dr. James Crowe, Director of Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, has led the team in researching and creating antibodies for deadly global viruses such as Ebola, HIV, influenza, and Zika. Now, their efforts are focused on developing antibodies that not only reduce the spread of COVID-19 but help prevent a person from contracting it.

In the Midst of the Storm

Throomers caught up with Dr. Crowe for an interview on his insights on the coronavirus and was surprised to learn how he and his wife, Lisa, fared during the onset of the pandemic while traveling abroad. Dr. Crowe recounts, “The pandemic has been pretty disruptive to the plans my wife and I had made for 2020. We traveled to Siena, Italy, in early February for what was to be a period of about three months of work and study. I had set aside the time to do strategic planning for the next 5-10 years of my work. Little did we know that Italy would become an epicenter of the pandemic right before our eyes. Weeks after we arrived there, the epidemic swept through the country. My wife’s language school closed, and the country moved toward lockdown.

“We scrambled out of the country on one of the last days it was possible in mid-March.  On arrival in the U.S., we spent two weeks in quarantine because of our travels in Italy. Then, our own city of Nashville became affected, and we have been mostly in the house ever since following our city’s ‘safer at home’ advisory.”

Race for a Cure

To date, there is no cure for coronavirus, and researchers around the world are investigating treatments that could undergo clinical trials soon. All that takes time, perhaps 18 months before a vaccine becomes available. But there seems to be good news on the horizon as we hear of several promising vaccines and drugs in various stages of development, including the antibody therapy Vanderbilt is building.

Dr. Crowe fills us in on what his team is doing, “My research team at Vanderbilt has been working flat out since January to make a treatment for COVID-19 from the blood cells of survivors. It has been very awkward in some ways to try to lead the team from Italy or from home, but our group is self-managing and full of servant leaders, so the work has proceeded at warp speed. We have had great success, with the help of a large number of collaborators around North America. We have isolated antibodies that are now being prepared for clinical trials as early as June. We are excited to make an impact with our efforts.”

The progress Dr. Crowe’s team is making for this antibody treatment is unprecedented. Their work is receiving a great deal of media attention and much needed financial support. He says, “A lot of people have been pulling for us. The superstar Dolly Parton of Nashville gave a $1 million leadership gift to our medical center to support COVID-19 research, which was inspiring. There has been a lot of interest in our progress nationally; I have appeared on CNN, Fox, and other networks and public radio explaining the process to make antibodies, and our progress. We’re proud to contribute to the fight against the pandemic.”

Thoughts on Future Pandemics

Stepping up preparedness for the next pandemic will have to become a priority for every level of government to help alleviate the strain placed on public healthcare systems, community services, the economy, and the functioning of society. Dr. Crowe shares his thoughts on planning for the future, “I am confident that we’ll get through this pandemic in the coming year, but the question I have is whether we will do a serious after-action-review to prepare for the next pandemic.

“Are we finally ready to make a proactive plan to address the potential for emerging diseases with potential to cause worldwide disruption? We have the technology to address nearly every threat that is likely to happen. But we haven’t had the will as a people to commit to preparing. This will cost billions, which used to seem unthinkable as an investment. Now that we have lost trillions to COVID-19, the money we need to prepare for the future seems tiny.”

Learning from This Experience

The pandemic has brought new challenges to our everyday lives. On a personal level, Dr. Crowe describes what it’s been like for him and his family, “Even though I am a scientist working on the cure, I am just like everyone else in the sense that I am living under the practical constraints of working from home, Zoom meetings for work and for game nights with our adult children, and trying to exercise every day for mental and physical wellness. Like many others, I have felt the trapped feelings, but also the benefits of a simpler life, with more focus than usual, and more contemplation about what really matters over the long run. This has been a purifying experience in some ways.”

“I am guessing there will be a period of gratefulness, cooperation, and respect in our communities, and closeness in our families. Those will be the silver linings as we grapple with the more practical fallout of economic and medical setbacks. We have to stay in this together.”

Our thoughts are with Dr. Crowe and his research team that their valiant efforts in developing an antibody therapy will succeed. Learn more about Dr. Crowe and his work in virology on Throomers.com.