Initiative focuses first on hypothesis that coronavirus lingers in patients

BY JENNIFER COUZIN-FRANKEL

Grateful to see Long Covid research.  I wonder what resources will be devoted to integrative therapies such as those endorsed by the Institute for Functional Medicine IFM Link to Covid Therapies.  The strong bias against integrative  approaches to Covid (and most health conditions) continues unabated.

Michael Lerner

A new, privately funded venture announced today it has recruited more than 20 top scientists and is pouring $15 million raised so far into Long Covid research, with plans to launch clinical trials of treatments as soon as possible. The scientist who spearheaded the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI), microbiologist Amy Proal at the Washington state–based nonprofit PolyBio Research Foundation, says the goal is to bring in $100 million. Half would be dedicated to trials, which have thus far been sparse in the field.

When it comes to available funds, LCRI pales in comparison with the behemoth RECOVER initiative at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has more than $1 billion to fund Long Covid projects. But RECOVER has also come under fire for its sluggish pace and slow recruitment into its current flagship program, an observational study slated to enroll up to 40,000 people. Proal and others say different, quicker strategies are desperately needed, including more rapid distribution of funds and an embrace of higher risk, higher payoff research.

“We need a spark, we need a philanthropic organization that has a risk tolerance much greater than NIH,” says E. John Wherry, an immunologist at the University of Pennsylvania who is part of LCRI and has been an adviser on some RECOVER grants. Wherry compares NIH money to the bonds in an investor’s portfolio—“lumbering, slow-changing things that give you the core of what you need.” But, “Sometimes to make a rapid change or to pivot in your investment strategy, bonds are not going to be the tool you use,” he says.

NIH said in a statement that the agency welcomes the private initiative because “the public can only benefit from multiple research efforts.” However, the statement called RECOVER “unprecedented” in scale and aim, and said the giant effort will be crucial to giving researchers “a fighting chance at identifying the underlying mechanisms of Long COVID.”

LCRI was born after several patient advocates with Long Covid and a professional background in technology startups approached Proal early this year. “They were like, ‘We want to get better, we want to get better soon,’” Proal says. The advocates considered how to apply their startup mentality to the overwhelming challenge of Long Covid.

“The enormity of the problem really outweighs the size of the response,” says one advocate, LCRI co-founder Henry Scott-Green, a Google product manager. He contracted COVID-19 in August 2020 and subsequently developed Long Covid but has since improved.

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