WSU, 4 health systems seek to bring COVID-19 drug trials to Metro Detroit

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Detroit — "Large scale" COVID-19 drug trials are headed to Metro Detroit, a hotspot for the coronavirus in America, Wayne State University and four Michigan hospital systems announced Friday.

Wayne State's partners in the effort are Henry Ford Health System, Beaumont, Detroit Medical Center, and Ascension Michigan.

"Doctors affiliated with the five organizations collectively treat millions of patients a year, which provides a large-scale study opportunity for potentially life-saving treatment options," a statement from the group said.

The growth in coronavirus cases in Detroit has made Wayne County an emerging hot spot for the disease, a grave turn for a population that is more vulnerable to severe cases and even death.

More:Detroiters face higher risk of severe outcomes in coronavirus outbreak

Confirmed cases rose to 1,075 among Detroiters on Friday. 

“We’re going to be very competitive. We want to figure out how to optimally treat these patients, to establish protocols and systems so we can all do things effectively and, very importantly, to quickly track outcomes," said Dr. William O'Neill, medical director of the Henry Ford Center for Structural Heart Disease, in the statement. 

"This viral pandemic has no boundaries,” added Dr. Shukri David, chair of cardiovascular services for Ascension Michigan. “By combining the resources of our medical community, we will offer research opportunities that no one institution alone can defeat. Our efforts are stronger when we work together.”

Beaumont Hospital Royal Oak staff members perform curbside testing for COVID-19  and the flu for people at the North parking lot at Beaumont Hospital Royal Oak in Royal Oak, Mich. on Mar. 15, 2020.

Joining them will be emergency department specialist Dr. Phil Levy, of Wayne State, Dr. Amr Abbas of Beaumont, emergency department specialist Dr. Brian O'Neil from the DMC.

O'Neill got support from Henry Ford leadership to pursue the collaboration and got buy-in from the other organizations.

The joint effort is working to get the National Institutes of Health's approval to bring two coronavirus trials to the area. According to the statement, those are:

  • Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine: The company’s chief executive officer said Moderna might provide the vaccine to a few people, which could include health care workers, as early as this fall. A healthy volunteer received the first COVID-19 vaccine on March 16. The company estimates it could take 18 months to make it commercially available, if the trials prove successful.
  • Takeda’s hyperimmune globulin: Using plasma from patients who have recovered from COVID-19, the company is evaluating a treatment that’s effective on other severe acute viral respiratory infections.

Levy, chief innovation officer of the Wayne State University Physician Group and assistant vice president of Translational Science and Clinical Research Innovation for Wayne State University, said in the statement that "by combining forces, we can marshal greater research capabilities to effectively test vaccines and treatments to combat this virus."

As of Friday afternoon, Michigan had 92 coronavirus-related deaths, and about 3,657 cases. 

U.S. coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx for the first time on Thursday identified Wayne County as an area of focus.

"We are concerned about certain counties that look like they’re having a more rapid increase — if you look at Wayne County in Michigan and you look at Cook County and Chicago,” Birx said.