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YoungAlumni 275x275Soon after a COVID-19 national emergency was declared in the U.S., Jim Gorrie, CEO of Birmingham-based Brasfield & Gorrie, asked UAB President Ray Watts, M.D., to talk to a group of CEOs about COVID-19 needs and opportunities. Watts shared three pages of urgent needs at UAB for clinical research and laboratory research meant to save lives, understand the disease, and find treatments. The next day, Gorrie sent an email to the 21 business leaders who were on the call, saying Brasfield & Gorrie would contribute to the UAB effort, “and I just wanted to encourage anyone else who can help to join in.”

The result? In just 20 days in March, the UAB Advancement Office raised more than $1.1 million from the Birmingham business community and a donor in Montgomery for urgent laboratory and clinical COVID-19 research at UAB. More than 50 School of Medicine faculty members submitted grant proposals and 14 projects were selected for awards in April.

“Because of the urgency of this pandemic, one of the criteria was how quickly the research team could launch their study, and how quickly they could begin to see results,” says Etty (Tika) Benveniste, Ph.D., senior vice dean for Basic Sciences in the School of Medicine. “We wanted research studies that could be reviewed at the three- and six-month time frames to determine their potential. That is a very accelerated timeline for research.”

Ten additional pilot projects—funded by $402,000 in donations—began August 1. Competition for funding was open to the entire university, and 76 applications were received. Preliminary data from the pilots will form the basis for new grants and contracts, including pursuit of the $2 billion COVID-19 grant support being offered by the National Institutes of Health.

“We are also very involved with the National Institutes of Health Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units that are participating in worldwide studies on both vaccines and treatment for SARS-CoV-2,” says Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the UAB Division of Infectious Diseases. “It is to the credit of UAB investigators in both the clinical and basic sciences to have been able to ramp up important research studies so quickly in the face of this pandemic, and a credit to the Alabama business community who responded so quickly and generously with the funding necessary to undertake this work.” – Jeff Hansen and Bob Shepard