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How the Division of Infectious Diseases is Leading the Charge Against the Coronavirus Pandemic

Long before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Division of Infectious Diseases has been an integral component of University of Utah Health. Now, more than ever, however, our physician & provider teams are seen on the frontlines of both University of Utah’s and our state’s response to this devastating pandemic. 

Through innovations in care delivery, expanding the role and scope of the antimicrobial stewardship program, developing novel care protocols, serving as a vital consult resource for the health system, spearheading community advocacy efforts, including our underserved population, and advancing science and patient care through clinical trials, the Division has been busier than ever ensuring the success of both the inpatient and outpatient enterprises. Recent advancements in our clinical trials efforts have been particularly impactful & exciting.

Dr. Carlos Gomez, the principal investigator for the ACTT-study (Adaptive Covid-19 Treatment Trial, ACTT-3), shared his perspective on the importance of this recent clinical trial:

“…I strive to procure broad patient enrollment into this major clinical trial involving hospitalized patients with COVID-19 at our institution. Well-designed clinical trials are the best instruments to inform clinicians about the best therapies for COVID-19. In the ACTT-study network, drugs with sound clinical and pre-clinical scientific data are assessed under the most robust study-design: the randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The ACTT network provides an ideal framework to assess innovative therapies that impact meaningful clinical outcomes while keeping patient safety as a top priority. Patient participation in clinical trials contributes significantly to advance the field of medicine, solidify evidence-based therapies for COVID-19 while procuring the highest standards for patient safety.”

On November 10th, the University of Utah Health completed patient enrollment into ACTT-3 (Remdesivir plus Interferon Beta 1a vs. Remdesivir monotherapy), but ACTT-4, the next iteration of the ACTT-study network, is planned to start enrollment in the upcoming weeks and will enroll hospitalized patients with COVID-19 who require oxygen support. ACTT-4 will evaluate the efficacy and safety of the immunomodulator Baricitinib compared to dexamethasone, the steroidal anti-inflammatory agent frequently used in hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

In addition to clinical trial efforts, Dr. Gomez has been involved in outreach press and media initiatives towards the Hispanic and Latinx population in our state, reinforcing the message for universal masking, social distancing, and massive flu-vaccination and COVID-prevention measures.

As both a clinical trial principal investigator and nationally recognized expert, Dr. Emily Spivak has been a leader in the space of COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma (CCP) efforts at the University of Utah.

Sponsored by Johns Hopkins University, the COVID-19 Plasma Trials were activated at the University of Utah on Monday, November 2nd. These trials are designed to assess the efficacy and safety of human coronavirus immune plasma for treating COVID-19 in outpatients with confirmed disease (within 7 days of diagnosis) and preventing infection in those with high-risk exposures.

The treatment trial will look at the potential role of convalescent in plasma in reducing the risk of hospitalization or death, the duration of symptoms and duration of viral shedding. If use of coronavirus immune plasma is an effective means for treating patients with early COVID-19 disease, it may better equip our health system in preventing severe health complications related to COVID-19, better manage hospital admissions and potentially decompress the hospital census.

For a more detailed update on these trials and more, check out Dr. Spivak’s November 5th COVID-19 Daily Clinical Update (14:41 – 30:17, Pulse login required). Dr. Spivak has also been a voice in the community advocating for statewide masking and bolstering of physical distancing. Check her heartfelt address on October 8th at the Utah Governor’s Briefing (9:22 – 13:02).

These are just two examples of Division of Infectious Diseases physician scientists leading the charge against the COVID-19 pandemic and we could not be more grateful for their tireless efforts and remarkable work here at University of Utah Health, in our communities, and across the nation. Lookout for more advances in clinical care, research, and education from the Division of Infectious Diseases.