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April 22, 2020

Lightning Fast COVID-19 Response at Providence Saint John’s Health Center

by Zara Jethani

An antiviral and an anti-inflammatory therapy against COVID-19, and convalescent plasma are currently in clinical trials at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.

Responding to a Global Pandemic

Dr. Steven O'Day

Dr. Steven O’Day, Executive Director of the Saint John’s Cancer Institute and Director of Providence Los Angeles Regional Research, immediately recognized the significance of the COVID-19 pandemic and quickly extended the scope of his world-class cancer research team to incorporate top clinicians, scientists and non-cancer researchers to help combat the rapidly evolving crisis.

“I’m so proud of our team. We have put together in a matter of weeks arguably one of the most comprehensive COVID-19 clinical and research programs in the nation,” said Dr. O’Day. “To put 27 patients in 3 weeks on cutting edge clinical trials with two of the most promising new drugs in the battle against COVID-19 is an astonishing accomplishment and a true team effort. To accept the sickest patient transfers needing ECMO support and bringing them back to health is truly inspirational.”

Working Towards a Cure

The pandemic of novel coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has grown into a global public health emergency with the number of confirmed cases increasing sharply. Two promising therapies are currently under investigation at Providence Saint John’s Health Center. An antiviral from Gilead called remdesivir, is an RNA polymerase inhibition drug that aims to disrupt the multiplication of the coronavirus when it enters the body. If the virus is not able to replicate its own genetic material, its ability to cause widespread infection in its human host is diminished. Antivirals have a fairly modest efficacy but they also have the broad-based potential for a first line of attack against an entire class of viral pathogens.1

Sanofi/Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ sarilumab (Levzara)2 is a monoclonal antibody that has been rushed into clinical trials and is currently being studied for safety and efficacy in hospitalized patients. It inhibits a protein called interleukin 6 (IL-6) – one of the inflammatory cytokines secreted in an antiviral response. Levels of IL-6 are elevated in seriously ill COVID-19 patients and may serve as a driving force in macrophage dominance by creating an unfavorable environment for T cells.1

Forging Ahead With Clinical Trials

Terese C. Hammond, MD, Director of the Critical Care program at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and Principal Investigator for the remdesivir and sarilumab clinical trials, believes multiple approaches are necessary to combat this disease while scientists worldwide work to find a vaccine and ultimately a cure for COVD-19.

“We know that a vaccine is 12-18 months away, so our ability to offer multi-modal therapy now to our sickest patients is our highest priority. It is our belief that the survival of these patients depends on a robust clinical and biologic response to their critical illness, hence the need for clinicians and researchers to work arm in arm to develop treatment protocols.”

– Dr. Terese C. Hammond

The Importance of Prevention

Physicians and scientists at Pacific Neuroscience Institute and Saint John’s Cancer Institute are affiliated with Providence Saint John’s Health Center. The three entities are additionally requesting plasma donations for a new trial. The plasma of successfully recovered individuals could be antibody-rich potentially helping patients with active COVID-19 disease or as a preventative measure.

“Our current efforts are to pivot this comprehensive clinical and research program to earlier stages of the disease, thereby preventing the need for ICU beds, ventilators and ECMO support. This is our prime focus and an absolutely achievable goal. We are Saint John’s Strong. My deepest gratitude to everyone,” Dr. O’Day added.



For more information, please contact:

Email: | Phone: 310-582-7437

About the Author

Zara Jethani, MS, MBA

Zara Jethani

Zara is the marketing director at Pacific Neuroscience Institute. Her background is in molecular genetics research and healthcare marketing. In addition, she is a graphic designer with more than 20 years experience in the healthcare, education and entertainment industries.

Last updated: December 11th, 2020