CURE Alliance: Paving the Way for Fighting COVID-19

In early 2020, shortly after SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, was first detected in Wuhan, China, the public learned of the virus’s devastating consequences and the dangers of its spread. But much remained unknown regarding how to combat it.

Ten months ago, a team of UK researchers joined forces to learn more about the virus that was causing a global pandemic. Since the team’s creation, it has made record progress in enhanced research, the launch of clinical trials, and the development of clinical care approaches for patients.

Scientists, clinicians, and pharmacists from across campus make up the COVID-19 Unified Research Experts (CURE) Alliance. The goals are to better understand the virus and find effective treatments. As its acronym suggests, the ultimate goal is to find a cure.

Rebecca Dutch, PhD, professor and chair of the department of molecular and cellular biochemistry, is the principal investigator (PI) of the team. She has overseen the team’s “amazing progress,” including its tenacious effort to share important breakthroughs with the community, as well as the sponsoring of multiple clinical trials.

“This Alliance team has truly been exceptional in its response to this worldwide crisis,” Dr. Dutch said.

Clinical trials conducted by the CURE Alliance could lead to important discoveries. The multi-arm COVID-19 trial, headed by Susanne Arnold, MD, and Zach Porterfield, MD, PhD, is examining potential antivirals and their utilization early in infection. The PIPPI trial, led by Alexandra Kejner, MD, is looking at prevention of infection in health care workers. In addition, the CURE Alliance has helped create a biobank with samples from COVID-19 patients that can be used by researchers.

The CURE Alliance also has worked with the Center for Clinical and Translational Science and the Office of the UK Vice President for Research to sponsor pilot grants related to COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2. The awards have resulted in a large number of external grant applications and publications, helping UK become a national leader in this effort.

Dr. Dutch’s own research with SARS-CoV-2 focuses on the spike protein that promotes the fusion between the viral membrane and the membrane of the host cell. By learning more about this process, researchers may develop strategies for blocking the fusion and preventing COVID-19 infection.

“Everyone has had to learn a lot of new things – I know I have! – and keep up on a field that is growing at a tremendous rate,” Dr. Dutch said. “The discussions in this group are in-depth and insightful. It truly has been one of the most enriching experiences of my career to work with this team.”

UK and the CURE Alliance have swiftly adapted to the ever-changing nature of the pandemic. In June, two additional teams focusing on materials/methods and social sciences were created to complement the health focus of the original team. Each has honed expertise into specific areas for better concentration on COVID-19-related research and connection to funding opportunities.

The CURE Alliance meets as much as twice per week to keep up with the large amount of publications and share information on important findings as soon as they are released. Clinical trials and pilot proposals remain ongoing.

Next steps include continued monitoring of new advancements such as vaccines and new viral variants, along with the completion of clinical trials and research projects.

To learn more about the CURE Alliance and our other Alliance teams, click here: https://med.uky.edu/alliance

CURE Alliance Team Members:

  • John A. Bauer, PhD, Professor – Department of Pediatrics
  • Emma Birks, MD, PhD, Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Ken Campbell, PhD, Professor – Department of Physiology
  • Lisa A. Cassis, PhD, Professor and Vice President for Research – Department of Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences
  • Robert DiPaola, MD, Dean, College of Medicine – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Becky Dutch, PhD, Professor – Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry
  • Beth A. Garvy, PhD, Associate Dean for Biomedical Education – Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics
  • James Geddes, PhD, Vice Dean for Research – Department of Neuroscience
  • Matthew S. Gentry, PhD, Professor – Department of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry
  • Rodney Guy, PhD, Dean and Professor – College of Pharmacy
  • Darrell Jennings, MD, Professor - Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine​
  • Philip A. Kern, MD, Director, Center for Clinical and Translational Science – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Jill Kolesar, PharmD, Professor – Department of Internal Medicine and Markey Cancer Center​
  • Mitu Maskey, MD, MBBS, Assistant Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Peter Morris, MD, Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Zin Myint, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Zach Porterfield, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics
  • Vivek M. Rangnekar, PhD, Professor – Department of Radiation Medicine
  • Frank Romanelli, PharmD, Professor – College of Health Sciences
  • Jaime Sturgill, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Internal Medicine​
  • Lisa Tannock, MD, Professor – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Alice Thornton, MD, Division Chief – Department of Internal Medicine
  • Vincent Venditto, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Pharmacy
  • Christopher Waters, PhD, Professor – Department of Physiology
  • Jerold Woodward, PhD, Professor – Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics