UCLA Researchers Receive COVID-19 Grants as California Stem Cell Agency Rewards Bruin R&D Excellence

Jun 15, 2020 | COVID-19, UCLA, Vaccine Booster

UCLA Researchers Receive COVID-19 Grants as California Stem Cell Agency Rewards Bruin R&D Excellence

Two University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Scientists have received separate State of California grants for their potential COVID-19 treatment and vaccine booster. Issued by The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM, the awards go to associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami and Song Li, chair and chancellor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. In recognition of Bruin research excellence, overall UCLA’s Broad Stem Cell Research Center has received 4 of the 11 CIRM awards for COVID-19 research.

The Grant Awards

Professors Arumugaswami and a research partner Robert Damoiseaux conducted a study that screened over 400 drugs for possible targets against SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind the COVID-19 pandemic. They identified the drug called Berzosertib, which apparently can block the DNA repair pathway in cancer cells while not adversely impacting normal, healthy cells. Hence, Professor Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami working out of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA received $349,999 for his team to conduct pre-clinical research into the ATR kinase inhibitor. The drug was originally developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals but was apparently part of an acquisition by Merck KGaA (“German Merck) in 2017.

The Hypothesis

The Bruin research team hypothesize that this drug developed by Vertex Pharmaceuticals could possibly reduce the distribution of the COVID-19 infection and hence prevent complications if taken imminently post diagnosis. The team will work to determine the potential, and if the results are positive, this effort will contribute to the submission of an investigational new drug application (IND) to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Professor Arumugaswami seeks to bring this drug to underserved communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. TrialSite News has reported that Blacks in some metropolitan areas in the U.S. died at three times the rates of Whites.

The Second Award

In the meantime, another Bruin received funding in the amount of $149,916 in support of a COVID-19 virus booster.  Song Li, chair and chancellor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, developed the booster that could stimulate the formation of T memory stem cells that could improve immune response in the elderly and vulnerable populations—those most at risk for severe illness or death from COVID-19. Apparently, the actual booster components are already FDA approved, so if successful, the product could be deployed rapidly.

UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center

Securing 4 of the 11 total CIRM awards for COVID-19 research, the Broad Stem Cell Research Center supports innovation, excellence, and the highest ethical standards focused on taking groundbreaking stem cell research discoveries from the laboratory to the patient. This innovative center represents an environment in which over 200 members are provided with the most sophisticated laboratory space and technologies to expedite the time between basic science discovery and its clinical application at the bedside.

About CIRM

The CIRM was created by the people of California to accelerate stem cell treatments to patients with unmet medical needs, as well as act with a sense of urgency to succeed in that mission. To meet this challenge, their team of highly trained and experienced professionals actively partners with both academia and industry in a hands-on, entrepreneurial environment to fast track the development of today’s most promising stem cell technologies. With $3 billion in funding and approximately 300 active stem cell programs in our portfolio, CIRM is the world’s largest institution dedicated to helping people by bringing the future of cellular medicine closer to reality.

Lead Research/Investigator

Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, PhD, Professor

Song Li, chair and chancellor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering

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Source: UCLA

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