PA Life Sciences Companies Commit to the Fight
Against COVID-19

Dr. Paul Duprex (right) talking to a virologist measuring the number of infectious coronavirus particles

Dr. Paul Duprex (right) talking to a virologist measuring the number of infectious coronavirus particles in a research sample inside the Biosafety Level 3 lab at the Center for Vaccine Research

Over the past several years, I have traveled across Pennsylvania and have met with hundreds of companies of all shapes and sizes. I’m always impressed by their operations, employees, and the impact they make not just in our commonwealth but across the nation and often internationally. Pennsylvania has always been home to some of the world’s most innovative life sciences companies. Every day, new discoveries are found in our labs and new products enter the market. So, it was no surprise that when COVID-19 hit the United States researchers from across PA responded, creating new vaccines, treatments and therapies that would prove to be instrumental in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.

With a goal toward supporting the Commonwealth’s life sciences industry, the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, through a sub-grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, made $10 million in grant money available to some of the most promising researchers who were working hard to identify new vaccines, treatments and therapies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

PA’s Innovators

Central PA boasts several impressive life sciences companies, including Apogee Biotechnology Corporation which was founded by Dr. Charles D. Smith in 2001. The company is focused on discovering and developing new drugs for serious human diseases such as cancer and inflammatory diseases. Located at the Hershey Center for Applied Research, Apogee’s VP of Research and Business Affairs, Lynn Maines, recently shared that “we were honored and appreciative to receive the VTT Grant. The grant importantly enabled us to better understand how our drug opaganib, currently in clinical trials as a therapeutic for severe COVID-19, works in this disease by examining its actions in mouse models of acute respiratory distress. The information gained is expected to help optimize clinical trials in patients with COVID-19, or other inflammatory respiratory diseases.”

Known for its historic role in the development of the polio vaccine, the University of Pittsburgh received a grant to advance the work of Dr. Paul Duprex and his team at Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research. As the number of scientists working on COVID-19 increased, the Center found itself in need of more space. It expanded access and added new state-of-the art equipment to speed up and support ongoing vaccine studies, which has allowed the Center to play an important role in global vaccine testing and coronavirus research.

“Viruses know no boundaries,” said Duprex. “To stop this pandemic, we must continue our efforts in studying how the coronavirus evolves and work on developing therapies and treatments that can be quickly adapted to the shape-shifting virus.”

What’s next for the Center? “It’s very important for us to play our part in this big global exercise.

Everyone is contributing a little, but the world is learning a lot together,” Duprex noted in a recent interview. “We continue studying how this virus evolves and focus on researching how immune response generated by vaccines can protect us against the new variants. We also prioritize public outreach and are passionate about working with local communities on combating vaccine hesitancy. The closer we are to that fast-moving mouse, the more likely we are as the cat to catch it,” Duprex added.

Integral Molecular Laboratories, Philadelphia


Integral Molecular Laboratories, Philadelphia

Lastly, we focus in on the innovation that is coming out of Philadelphia. Integral Molecular, Inc. (IM) – a world leader in providing virus particles throughout the biopharmaceutical industry for applications including antibody discovery and serum screening for vaccine clinical trials – used its expertise to prepare virus particles from SARS-CoV-2 and related coronaviruses to create tools, services, and therapeutics that are being used directly for therapeutic and vaccine development. The company has provided its materials to over 100 COVID-19 laboratories around the globe to accelerate the development of desperately needed vaccines and therapeutics against the virus.

“We are honored to be part of a large community in Pennsylvania fighting the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr. Benjamin Doranz, President and CEO of Integral Molecular. “With the help of DCED and the NIH, we’ve been able to supply labs all over the world with the tools they’ve needed to speed vaccines and therapeutics to patients.”

Apogee, the Center for Vaccine Research, and IM are just three examples of the innovative projects the Department funded through this grant program. We’re extremely grateful to these companies – and many others – for not only their response to the pandemic but the value they bring every day, not only to Pennsylvania but worldwide.

Visit the DCED website to learn more about these COVID-19 Vaccines, Treatments, and Therapies grant recipients and other projects. Learn more about the Life Sciences Industry in PA and the resources that are available. Stay up-to-date on DCED news by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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