American Lung Association Launches $25 Million Fund to Fight COVID-19, Future Pandemics

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Anyone who breathes is at risk for contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, and the estimated 36 million Americans who have lung diseases are even more at risk for developing severe complications related to the disease.

That was the dire statement from Harold Wimmer, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association. Wimmer made the comment during a Thursday afternoon conference call when the century-old organization announced a $25 million initiative to support the fight against COVID-19, as well as future viral pandemics. The new COVID-19 Action Initiative, which was seeded with $8 million the association had in its accounts, will be used to expand the association’s ongoing respiratory research program, enhance key public health measures and establish an advanced network to stop future respiratory virus pandemics, Wimmer said. In addition to the seed funds, Wimmer said the ALA is advocating to raise additional funds to support the ongoing needs and to help build the fund for future needs. He added that the organization anticipated a span of three years to raise and deploy funds for this and emerging needs for respiratory awareness. The new initiative will also work with public and private entities to increase research collaboration and develop new vaccines, detection tests and treatment therapies.

Wimmer pointed out that more than 36 million people in the United States suffer from a lung disease, including asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. These patients are at higher risk for complications for the disease, which makes it critical to reduce the disease impact on this patient population.

While lung disease patients are at higher risk for COVID-19, Dr. David Hill, a pulmonology and critical care physician with Waterbury Pulmonary Associates in Connecticut, noted that there is no strong data that suggests these patients are more susceptible to contracting the disease than those who do not have a type of lung disease. He quickly added that there is data that shows these patients can experience worse symptoms from the disease. For those lung disease patients who do contract COVID-19, Hill said they are likely due to a longer recovery period than those without the underlying disease conditions.

The American Lung Association said it will use the fund to award research grants for preventive research, vaccines, antivirals and to advance future outbreak preparedness and will also expand COVID-19 research within the current clinical trials of the Airways Clinical Research Center (ACRC) Network.

Wimmer said over the course of its history, the American Lung Association has been at the forefront of the fight against respiratory diseases and pandemics, including previous outbreaks such as SARS and MERS. Wimmer said the ALA has played a key role in those fights and will do so against COVID-19 and future viral outbreaks. The COVID-19 Action Initiative will ensure better preparedness to meet the virus outbreaks of the future, Wimmer said. Additionally, the American Lung Association will allocate funds to education and advocacy to support public health against the current and future threats of COVID-19 and respiratory viruses.

During the hour-long conference call, the ALA representatives did not specifically address any of the medications that are being studied as potential treatments for COVID-19, such as Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir or the malaria treatment hydroxychloroquine, but did note that survival rates for patients on ventilators in the United States is a bit higher than what doctors in Europe and China have been seeing. But, Dr. Meilan Han, a professor of internal medicine in the University of Michigan Health System and Principal Investigator with the American Lung Association Airways Clinical Research Center, warned that there was a dire need of protective personal equipment (PPE) for treating medical staff. Citing information from frontline doctors and nurses in Detroit, Han said they are reusing and recycling equipment in ways that have never been heard of. She called on the federal government to act to develop a sustainable and transparent supply chain for PPE and other necessary equipment.

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