3M awards COVID-19 research grant to RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences

Studies to investigate micro blood clots within the lung and the ability of ability of a repurposed drug to slow or stop the virus from causing severe damage leading to sepsis/septic shock

Science-based technology company 3M has awarded a significant philanthropic research grant of €420,000 to RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences to advance scientific knowledge in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research will focus on two specific areas of interest – the formation of micro blood clots within the lung and the ability of a repurposed drug to possibly slow or stop the virus from causing severe damage leading to sepsis/septic shock.

A team of researchers at RCSI, the Irish Centre for Vascular Biology and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, led by Professor James O’Donnell, has demonstrated that COVID-19 is associated with a unique type of blood clotting disorder that is primarily focused within the lung and which undoubtedly contributes to high levels of patient mortality. Previous research by the team has shown that Irish patients with a higher level of blood clotting activity had a significantly worse prognosis and were more likely to require intensive care admission. This new project will investigate the mechanisms through which COVID-19 triggers the formation of these micro-clots so that more effective treatments for patients can be developed, particularly for those in high-risk groups.

It builds on an award made to Professor O’Donnell earlier this year by the Health Research Board and the Irish Research Council to develop new and innovative approaches to improve clinical care for patients with COVID-19 pneumonia.

The second study, led by Professor Steven Kerrigan, will investigate a new approach to prevent the novel Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 recognising human cells. Accumulating evidence from around the world is suggesting that large numbers of COVID-19 patients develop sepsis/septic shock. When the SARS-CoV-2 attaches itself to human tissue it causes the release of sustained and excessive chemical signals that enter the blood supply triggering sepsis/septic shock. Encouraging initial studies carried out by Professor Kerrigan’s team uses a repurposed drug to prevent SARS-CoV-2 from attaching to human cells, therefore slowing or stopping the virus from causing severe and potentially long lasting damage to the body.

This project builds on pre-clinical research carried out by Professor Kerrigan’s team, supported by the Enterprise Ireland Commercialisation Fund programme, which demonstrated the ability of the repurposed drug to stop progression of bacterial induced sepsis to multiple organ failure. Plans to advance these findings into human clinical trials through an RCSI Spin-out Company, called InnovoSep, are currently underway.

The grant from 3M, which has its Ireland operations in Dublin and Athlone, Co. Westmeath, forms part of a $5 million initiative to support research programmes with a focus on treatments and vaccine development for COVID-19 at leading educational establishments around the world. The RCSI funding resulted from an international competitive process, reflecting the high esteem in which the University’s health research programmes are held, and was disbursed via 3M’s grant-making partner, GlobalGiving, to ensure thorough vetting, due diligence and reporting.

Welcoming the funding, RCSI CEO Professor Cathal Kelly said: “RCSI’s success in securing funding in this international competition is testament to the quality of the research being driven by our principal investigators. As a singularly focused health sciences university, we are committed to working to address some of the most important unanswered questions in healthcare through research and innovation, with the patient at the centre of everything we do. I am proud that our researchers have joined their international peers in a global effort to combat COVID-19.

“On behalf of the RCSI community, I want to extend my gratitude to 3M and GlobalGiving for their endorsement and support. This philanthropic funding will enable two research teams at RCSI to further their important COVID-19 research with the goal of improving the outcomes of people diagnosed with the virus.”

Dr Chris Lessing, Medical Affairs Leader at 3M, said: “Science is at the heart of 3M and we are committed to advancing the rapid study of this virus as part of our continued effort to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s important that 3M holds true to its core values by supporting our communities and improving lives. We hope that the grant to RCSI, which is renowned for its clinical and research expertise, will contribute to the international body of knowledge on COVID-19 and lead to improved patient outcomes.”

The grant builds on the existing strong relationship between RCSI and the former advanced wound care company Acelity/KCI, which 3M acquired in 2019 to further accelerate its position in providing better care through patient-centred science. Previous collaborations have included the development of a surgical leadership course for healthcare professionals in partnership with the RCSI Leadership Academy, and grant support for a surgical outreach scheme in Africa, training individuals such as midwives living in remote villages to use surgical techniques.

“These are dynamic times for us in Ireland,” commented June Ryan, 3M Ireland Country Leader. “With the acquisition of Acelity/KCI, our footprint has expanded to include manufacturing and global supply chain operations and our workforce has grown to more than 500 people. We will be following the progress and outcomes of the RCSI research with interest and look forward to future partnerships between our two organisations, with the common goal of improving people’s quality of life around the world.”

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