• Clinical Study Team win Crick Translation Prize
    Crick Team Winners of the Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation

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Clinical Study Team win Crick Translation Prize

Jan 18 2022

A team led by Crick group leader Veni Papayannopoulos and UCLH respiratory consultant Joanna Porter, has been awarded The Crick’s annual Sir David Cooksey Prize in Translation for investigating whether the cystic fibrosis drug Dornase alfa could reduce inflammation in the lungs of COVID-19 patients.

The winning team, including Veronique Birault (Director of Translation), David Roblin (Chair of the Crick's Translation Advisory Group) and Paul Nurse (Director), began work on the COVASE trial in March 2020, at the peak of the first wave of COVID. Externally funded by LifeArc, support was received from Roche who provided Dornase alpha; Pari who provided the nebuliser; key statistical consultancy Exploristics; and from Pauline Lukey, an independent consultant in early drug discovery and development.

The project was based on research from the Crick’s Antimicrobial Defense Laboratory studying the roles of web-like structures called ‘neutrophil extracellular traps’ or NETs. During an infection, white blood cells called neutrophils target pathogens by releasing NETs, which capture and kill pathogens.

The researchers believed that COVID-19 patients may be producing excess NETs, and that these NETs may cause excess inflammation and contribute to the development of pneumonia. 

The team has now demonstrated that Dornase alfa reduced inflammation in hospitalised patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia. Participants were found to have a 63% higher chance of surviving and leaving hospital, compared to patients receiving the best available care at the time. 

“What makes this treatment special and effective is the fact that unlike traditional treatments involving just one drug, it’s able to dampen multiple sources of inflammation, without completely shutting down the immune response," said Veni on receiving the prize. "Dornases have shown remarkable beneficial effects in animal studies and we are very pleased that we can now demonstrate their potential in treating patients with severe infections.”

“This would not have been possible without the amazing hard work and support of the Joint Research Office and Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH, the clinical research nursing team led by Joel Solis and of course the patients and their families that agreed to take part," added Joanna. "The beauty of this treatment is that it has been used for decades by children with cystic fibrosis and we know that it is safe and well-tolerated in this group. It can even be given outside the hospital setting so that patients can take it at home or in nursing homes”.

The winning team receive £10,000 for their research in addition to a £2,000 cash prize. The prize is a way to encourage and recognise researchers and teams, and to provide recognition of their achievements to support their career development.

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