A clinical trial at ECU testing a drug that might mitigate the effects of COVID-19 has the largest number of participants in the country, its lead researcher said.
Dr. Paul Cook, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at ECU’s Brody School of Medicine, updated members of the Board of Trustees on Thursday about the trial of LY3127804, which could prevent often-fatal lung damage caused by the virus.
ECU began enrolling patients June 1 in the trial aimed at preventing and shortening the duration of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. ARDS is a characteristic of COVID-19 that occurs when fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents oxygen from entering the bloodstream.
The university is collaborating with pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and Vidant Medical Center to test the drug in a double blind and placebo controlled study, Cook told members of the trustee’s Health Sciences Committee. A total of 27 patients have received a one time infusion.
The drug has not caused any significant side effects and has been well tolerated, he said. There are 12-14 testing sites in the country, but ECU is testing half of all the patients enrolled in the trial, he said.
Most of the patients are male, three-fourths are Hispanic and the age range is 20-86. Four patients have been intubated and none have died, he said.
“This brings in a lot of money for ECU,” Cook said. “I think that’s important in these times. The budget was around $880,000; we’ve actually already enrolled all the patients we need for the budget and we’re ready to enroll more and we can enroll more.”
It’s not the only trial related to COVID-19.
The medical school’s Dr. Paul Bolin told trustees that researchers also are participating in a trial with Lilly to study hyper-immune neutralizing antibodies. He said the company has taken the most robust antibodies to produce a hyper-immune antibody. In the next few weeks, the antibodies will be administered in Greenville.
This is will be the first outpatient COVID-19 anti-body treatment, he said. There are three steps for this trial, the first is for symptomatic patients who are not hospitalized, the second is for positive asymptomatic patients and the third is for patients who have not tested positive. He said the treatment may serve as a preventative or bridge to a vaccine.
The Board of Trustees held committee meetings and a full board meeting virtually on Thursday to discuss a variety of topics, including the students return to campus and the start of class on Aug. 10.
Election of officers
During the full board meeting on Thursday afternoon, members unanimously re-elected Vern Davenport as chairman, with Fielding Miller selected as vice chair and Vincent Smith as secretary.
Davenport said his priorities include a new Brody School of Medicine building, the hiring of a permanent chancellor, economic development of the region and the health and safety of students, faculty and staff going forward in the pandemic, according to a report from ECU News Services.
“There’s a lot for us to do, and I’m honored to be working with each of you,” he said.
Interim Chancellor Ron Mitchelson focused on two topics in his comments to trustees — racism and the pandemic.
Mitchelson called racism evil and said the university would be at the forefront of change, including a requirement to include racism and racial equality as a public health issue in the Health 1000 course curriculum.
“We will listen, we will learn and we will lead action,” he said.
As for the pandemic, he outlined measures the university has taken to maintain safety, such as block scheduling, an adjusted academic calendar and face covering requirements.
“In summary, our return to fall semester will be unlike any we have had in our 113-year history,” Mitchelson said. “We will be challenged deeply as individuals and as an institution. But, this is what I know — Pirates will meet the challenges head on, and we will be a stronger university because we are willing to do so.”
Finance and facilities
The pandemic’s impact on university finances won’t be clear until at least the end of August, the end of ECU’s fiscal year, Vice Chancellor for Administration and Finance Sara Thorndike told members of the Finance and Facilities Committee.
Draft statements will be ready at that time and will provide a clear pictures of revenues, expenses and cost-saving measures including recent furloughs to offset the loss of at least $2.6 million since the pandemic began in March.
“If there is any bright light in that, it’s that our spending, particularly any anticipated capital spending that we thought we would do in the spring, really didn’t happen because we just weren’t on campus to make those things happen,” she said.
She said revenues were down in the Division of Student Affairs due to refunds in housing and dining fees and fewer activities on campus.
All tuition has been billed for the fiscal year, Thorndike said. ECU expected to be down about $5.3 million to the prior year but was only down $5.1 million.
The university did receive $14 million in federal CARES aid, which will be used to cover expenses related to virus safety measures and costs in the coming fiscal year.
Members also were told the new Life Sciences and Biotechnology Building is about 45 percent complete. Though the pandemic and weather have caused some construction delays, the building is expected to be completed on time by July 2021, with opening set for Sept. 1, 2021.
In other business
- Members of the Audit, Risk Management, Compliance and Ethics Committee approved the required annual audit plan for the 2021 fiscal year. Wayne Poole, ECU’s director of internal audit, added that the plan will remain flexible and be reassessed in the coming months. Two audits are underway and ongoing. One is the annual financial statement audit, and the other the state auditor’s review of on-campus information technology.
“This IT audit is a much different animal than the financial audit,” Poole said.
- Athletics and Advancement Committee members learned that fundraising for East Campus for the year currently totals $23,115,360, more than $3 million above projections. Health Sciences fundraising was below projection. The actual number was $7,571,534, compared to a $12 million projection.
Chris Dyba, vice chancellor for university advancement, said the pandemic affected efforts.
“We’ve had some leadership turnover in that foundation and of course the pandemic and other reasons to pull back,” he said. “We recognize that we haven’t raised the type of money that we should be raising over there (on the health sciences campus). ... We did have a $5 million commitment pledge handshake (for East campus) that ultimately did not get closed because of uncertainty. We are still working through that and we believe this donor will come back to us. To be at $23 million without that $5 million, we are really happy with the progress there.