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Weill Cornell to use $2M from Citadel in COVID-19 fight

With the goal of advancing the fight against COVID-19, the Partners of Citadel and Citadel Securities have made a $2 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine to develop new approaches to protect people from the disease and identify new cases of it.

The gift from Citadel, which is led by longtime Weill Cornell Medicine benefactor Kenneth C. Griffin, will support two initiatives: a future national, randomized clinical trial evaluating whether an anti-malaria medication can protect front-line health care workers from COVID-19; and the accelerated development and national rollout of a rapid-response test for the infection.

Griffin is the founder and CEO of Citadel, one of the world’s leading alternative investment managers, and the founder of Citadel Securities, a leading global market maker. His many contributions to Weill Cornell Medicine span more than two decades and include nearly $10 million in support of numerous institutional initiatives.

“As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to surge, we must battle the virus on multiple fronts so that we can slow the spread of infection, reduce its burden on our health care system and save lives,” said Dr. Augustine M.K. Choi, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. “This generous gift from Ken Griffin and the partners at Citadel and Citadel Securities will advance our efforts to achieve these goals.”

“Clinical research has never been more important to advance the health care and public health response to COVID-19,” said Dr. Rainu Kaushal, senior associate dean of clinical research and chair of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We are grateful for these gifts from Citadel that will allow us to advance COVID-19 testing and better protect our front-line health care workers.”

“The fortitude and compassion of our front-line responders is heroic,” Griffin said. “Doctors, nurses and countless others continue to relentlessly battle the virus and selflessly care for the sick, while our nation’s researchers pursue the science needed to ultimately lead us out of this pandemic.”

Health care professionals are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection than the general population. Initial international data suggests that approximately 20% of these workers become infected as a result of their efforts to care for sick patients, with rates higher in areas where there is a limited supply of personal protective equipment. While health care workers continue to use this equipment – considered the best line of defense – at all times, there is currently no therapy that can prevent health care workers from acquiring the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 or from asymptomatically spreading it.

The national clinical trial, expected to launch in the coming weeks, will evaluate whether hydroxychloroquine – an anti-malaria drug that has been identified as potentially effective against COVID-19 – can protect front-line health care workers from contracting the virus. Investigators plan to enroll into the trial 15,000 health care workers, including 1,500 from New York City, from intensive care units, emergency departments and COVID-19 wards nationwide over a two-week period, with the randomized clinical trial lasting a month. The gift will support increased New York City enrollment of health care workers into this study.

The study is funded nationally by the Patient-Center Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), a nonprofit health care organization, and will be implemented through the PCORnet Network. INSIGHT Clinical Research Network, run by Kaushal, is a partnership of highly ranked academic medical centers in New York City and will be the work’s regional hub. INSIGHT trial sites will be led by Dr. Timothy Wilkin, associate professor of medicine and infectious disease specialist at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. 

The rapid-response test for COVID-19, developed by Christopher Mason, associate professor of physiology and biophysics and co-director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction at Weill Cornell Medicine, leverages loop-mediated isothermal amplification – a rapid gene-identification technique – and indicates a positive result with a color change.

The test, which also received funding support from WorldQuant, a quantitative investment firm, can complement current diagnostic methods and use samples derived from mouth swabs, instead of nasal swabs. It also does not necessitate the use of equipment or supplies that are both currently in short supply, while able to rapidly expand in scale and could potentially be used to test as many as 100,000 people per day. It will soon be submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use approval.

This work is being done in collaboration with companies and institutions including: Color, a health care diagnostic company; Cornell’s Ithaca campus; the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard; Illumina; the New York Genome Center; HudsonAlpha; and Tempus.

Linda Lombroso is a development communications associate for Weill Cornell Medicine.

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Jennifer Gundersen