Clinical trial led by VCU Wright Center leader may have helped COVID patient beat life-threatening pneumonia

Paul “Pee-J” Beverly doesn’t remember being airlifted to VCU Health from Lexington, Va., last fall. In fact, he doesn’t remember much of his COVID-19 experience at all.

But his girlfriend, Angela Griffin, does.

“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever been through,” she said. “Not being able to see him, barely being able to talk to him. And knowing it was touch and go. They pretty much prepared his parents and me for the idea that he might not make it.”

But Pee-J, 45, survived his harrowing experience with COVID-19 thanks to the extensive treatment and compassion of his many VCU Health doctors, nurses and on-site therapists. And his participation in a clinical trial may have helped him overcome the dangerous pneumonia that hit him hard.

That trial was led by Arun Sanyal, M.D., associate director for KL2 Career Development at the VCU Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and a professor of internal medicine in the VCU School of Medicine's Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Thankful for the option to join clinical trial

Because Pee-J was on the ventilator and on paralytic drugs, VCU Health asked his family for permission to place Pee-J in a clinical trial.

When the pandemic hit, there were no approved treatments for COVID-19. VCU Health worked quickly to join several trials and bring cutting-edge treatments to its patients. Pee-J qualified for a trial testing the safety and efficacy of two drugs, MSTT1041A and UTTR1147A, in fighting severe COVID-19 pneumonia in hospitalized patients.

“His parents gave permission for the doctors to do whatever they could to try to save his life,” Angela said. “There was no hesitation to join a clinical trial. They were thankful to have the option.”

Whatever they did, it worked, she said. “Once they started him on the medicines, you could see fast improvements.”

Pee-J remembers being told, after he woke up, that they’d used experimental drugs on him. He was relieved, even though he didn’t know whether he’d received the placebo or the real drug.

“They may have saved my life,” he said.

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Goal 2: Engage Patients and Communities in Every Phase of the Translational Process
Goal 3: Promote the Integration of Special and Underserved Populations in Translational Research Across the Human Lifespan