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Beating COVID-19: Here Are Philly’s Healthcare Heroes

Philly loves its heroes—Hamels, Foles, Doctor J and Bernie Parent. All live in our hearts and have brought us together in joy and celebration. Today, our community is living through the uncertain and sometimes tragic times of COVID-19. Today’s heroes aren’t wearing jerseys or helmets. They’re wearing lab coats and personal protective equipment. Some are just wearing street clothes. Their deeds are selfless, and their common goal is our health and well-being.

The tales of our healthcare heroes are founded in service and compassion and focused on bringing normalcy and vitality back to our community. Here are the stories of three local healthcare heroes who deserve a parade up Broad Street.

The Answer Is Out There

Dr. David Fajgenbaum believes that the cure for COVID-19 may be hiding in plain sight. Ten years ago, Fajgenbaum partnered with Dr. Frits van Rhee to establish the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network (CDCN) to accelerate research to explore a cure for Castleman Disease, a rare illness that, like COVID-19, had no FDA-approved treatments—and which Fajgenbaum himself suffered from. They discovered that a drug that had been on the market for many years–Sirolimus–could be repurposed to fight Castleman Disease. It saved Fajgenbaum’s life.

Now, in response to COVID-19, Fajgenbaum has drawn upon his own experience and rallied a team of scientists and volunteers from his lab to analyze 2500-plus published papers for COVID-19. Under Fajgenbaum’s leadership, the team is collecting data from treatments that have been tried on hundreds-of-thousands of COVID-19 cases in the last few months. Their goal is to identify effective repurposed drugs for patients who need them now.

To help Fajgenbaum’s team of disease hunters perform their critical work, please visit cdcn.org/join-the-fight/donate.

The First to Act

When Montgomery County became a surprisingly early hotbed for coronavirus cases in March, Dr. Christopher Notte, CMO of Jefferson’s Lansdale Abington Campus, jumped into action to create one of the first testing sites in the area. He assembled his team and helped reallocate protective gear, providers and physicians, and computer workstations within a day. Notte and his network continuously improved by mapping out other opportunities to evaluate patients coming in to mitigate blind spots (like co-morbidities and illness that were not COVID-19).

Under Notte’s guidance, his team even repurposed Urgent Care Centers as Respiratory Evaluation Centers, providing convenient ways for patients with symptoms to go to a central location and collaborate with their decentralized Primary Care network safely and quickly.

The Unsung Heroes

Some of our most courageous healthcare heroes are anonymous. In the fight against COVID-19, people from Philadelphia have volunteered for Phase I clinical trials to test an experimental coronavirus vaccine.

The vaccine is the product of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, a Pennsylvania-based biotech company which recently received regulatory clearance to begin testing. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, along with other nonprofits, funded Inovio’s project, but they needed volunteers to ensure the vaccine was safe. Enter heroes: healthy volunteers from our region that have raised their hands–and extended their arms–to test the vaccine. Each volunteer will receive two doses of the vaccine four weeks apart. Inovia expects initial trial data by late summer and plans to move on to Phase 2 trials to test efficacy as soon as possible.

To volunteer with Inovio for this vaccine, please contact clinical.trials@inovio.com. Thank you to these and all other Philadelphia healthcare heroes.

Vynamic is a healthcare industry management consulting firm headquartered in Philadelphia with offices in Boston, Durham, and London. They are fortunate to partner with clients across all sectors of healthcare including Health Plans, Healthcare Technology, Life Sciences, Providers, and Public Health.

They help clients achieve Actionable Strategy, Operational Intelligence, and Healthy Culture. Philadelphia is a global hub for healthcare innovation and a special place full of heroes, and they are proud to call it home.