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COVID-19 pandemic research at KPWHRI

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Models of the novel coronavirus (left, background) and its spike protein (right, foreground). Credit: NIH

Having long tracked infectious diseases and tested vaccines for safety and effectiveness, KPWHRI now focuses on the novel coronavirus.

Scientists at Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute (KPWHRI) are on the forefront of efforts to understand, prevent, diagnose, and treat COVID-19. This includes vaccines, medications, forecasts, and impacts of the virus on various health conditions.

“We rose early to the challenge of discovering all we can about the novel coronavirus pandemic,” says Michael L. Jackson, PhD, MPH, an associate investigator at KPWHRI.

Studies now enrolling Kaiser Permanente Washington patients

The first 2 studies listed below use different ways to collect test swabs that allow researchers to explore how many people get sick with COVID-19, what kind of symptoms they have, how risk varies across populations, and what factors increase risk of severe illness:

  • Residual Respiratory Swab Study: Certain Kaiser Permanente Washington patients who were recently tested for the novel coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) at Kaiser Permanente Washington are invited to give their permission to take part. This study uses leftover respiratory swab material from that test to see whether other viruses are present.
  • Self-Swab Respiratory Virus Study: KPWHRI researchers are contacting select patients who recently received care in person or virtually from a Kaiser Permanente Washington provider or who recently spoke with the Consulting Nurse Service about a cold or flu-like illness. When people agree to join the study, they are sent a kit to self-collect a swab that will be tested for SARS-CoV-2, flu, and other respiratory viruses.

Also, KPWHRI and University of Washington researchers are collaborating to develop and evaluate a test kit to detect virus shed into stool. This study will start enrolling some patients at Kaiser Permanente Washington soon.

Experimental vaccine trial

KPWHRI builds on its a background of longstanding participation as a Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit and collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), etc.

On July 27, 2020, a phase 3 trial was launched to test the effectiveness—and continue to test the safety—of the NIAID-Moderna vaccine for COVID-19. KPWHRI is one of 89 trial locations (as of Aug. 6), and the team is now enrolling participants in this trial. The team is also slated to collaborate with HDT Bio Corp. later this year on a phase 1 clinical trial of the firm’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine. Additional trials of other vaccine candidates may enroll participants in the future at KPWHRI. 

Meanwhile, KPWHRI is continuing to follow the people vaccinated in the phase 1 trial of the NIAID-Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 that was launched on March 16, 2020. KPWHRI was the first to begin testing an experimental vaccine for the novel coronavirus. For the first 45 people to receive the vaccine, 57 days after their first vaccination, it was well tolerated and generated an immune response that exceeded the average responses from a group of people recovering from the disease, according to a New England Journal of Medicine report on July 14, 2020.

KPWHRI is establishing a registry of people who want to participate in trials of investigational vaccines at corona.kpwashingtonresearch.org. The COVID-19 Prevention Trials Network has a volunteer screening registry of people nationwide who are interested in participating in a broader range of vaccines and other preventive therapies at various research facilities in Seattle and around the country: coronaviruspreventionnetwork.org.

Other COVID-19 studies

KPWHRI is a major contributor to understanding of the spread of COVID-19 in Washington state, because researchers have access to comprehensive information about a large real-world population. KPWHRI is also providing a variety of resources and support to the Kaiser Permanente Washington care-delivery system to help prevent, screen for, and treat COVID-19, such as:

  • Predictive analytics to identify Kaiser Permanente Washington Medicare-age patients at highest risk for complications of COVID-19, so care providers can proactively reach out to these patients offering care and support;
  • Consultation to Washington state’s COVID-19 Health System Response Management team in developing a database to track hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) use statewide;
  • Helping Kaiser Permanente Washington’s newly formed Business Command Center to understand, improve, and evaluate the “Virtual First” care model that is quickly evolving from the system’s rapid COVID-19 response;
  • Rapidly reviewing scientific evidence related to COVID-19 care;
  • Exploring how the virus affects physical and mental health, as well as how it affects care for other conditions such as cancer, chronic pain, diabetes, and heart disease; and
  • Working with Kaiser Permanente Washington Community Health and various community partnerships to identify and share resources with care providers in the region’s federally qualified health centers, including in-clinic workflows for COVID-19 and collaboratives to plan for emerging social needs resulting from the pandemic.

In addition, the many Kaiser Permanente enrollees who participate in the Kaiser Permanente Research Bank are providing blood samples and medical information that will be useful in the organization's ongoing COVID-19 research nationally.

Kaiser Permanente Washington patients can find information about testing, diagnosis, and treatment for COVID-19 here.

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