With the help of SCTR, MUSC Health expands COVID-19 trials to regional hospitals in South Carolina
As MUSC Health leaders began to plan for the onslaught of COVID-19, they thought that Charleston would see the highest increases in hospitalizations in South Carolina. Instead, some of MUSC Health’s regional hospitals, acquired just over 15 months ago, have been the hardest hit. MUSC Health Florence Medical Center, for example, has one-fourth the patient census of MUSC Health Charleston but four times the number of COVID-19 cases.
Fortunately, from the beginning, MUSC Health opted to take a “systems” approach to COVID-19, according to Rami C. Zebian, M.D., chief medical officer of MUSC Health Florence and Marion Medical Centers.
“We said that, as a system, we don't know where COVID-19 will strike hardest, but we have to be ready to mobilize resources, anywhere in the system,” said Zebian.
Although MUSC Health has provided regional hospitals with the necessary resources to face the crisis, the front-line health care workers, like their fellow caregivers across the nation, felt keenly the lack of treatment options to offer patients against this new foe.
“It's hard for me as a physician and for the medical staff in general to see someone get severely ill and feel that you are helpless, that you don't have much to offer,” said Zebian. “When we have a new disease, often the only things that are available are experimental therapies offered through clinical trials.”
Zebian had been encouraged by MUSC Health leadership at every turn to ask for what he needed. So when he heard that a convalescent plasma study had opened at MUSC Health Charleston, he picked up the phone to ask whether it could be brought to Florence. The study is testing whether antibodies in plasma from patients who have had COVID-19 can help patients with severe COVID-19 fight the disease better.
On the other end of the telephone call were leaders at the South Carolina Clinical and Translational Research (SCTR) Institute. SCTR is one of more than 60 Clinical and Translational Awards hubs nationwide dedicated to speeding the translation of research breakthroughs into the clinic. During the crisis, SCTR has been pulling out all the stops to fast-track the activation of promising COVID-19 trials on the Charleston campus.
With the help of SCTR and other MUSC research teams, MUSC Health Florence Medical Center began enrolling its first patients into the convalescent plasma study within weeks. Since then, more than 32 patients have been enrolled, as compared with seven in Charleston, demonstrating the importance of being able to reallocate more nimbly research resources to regions with the greatest need. MUSC Health Marion and Lancaster Medical Centers have also begun enrolling patients into the study.