COVID-related grants and contracts contribute to funding record at MUSC

October 08, 2021
Dr. Andrew Atz takes Pierce Cook’s temperature as his twin brother, Lucca, looks on.
Dr. Andrew Atz with twin brothers Pierce, who's getting his temperature taken, and Lucca Cook. The boys took part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial. Photo by Sarah Pack

Researchers working to answer some of the more pressing questions of the pandemic have helped drive extramural funding at the Medical University of South Carolina to a record high.


“It’s really outstanding. The total awarded dollars is up 21% compared with fiscal 2020,” said Lori Mahon, Ph.D., vice president for Research at MUSC. “It says a lot about the talent of MUSC research faculty. It says a lot about their drive and their ambition and their desire to really improve the health of South Carolinians.”


Dr. Lori McMahon

Funding from federal, state, corporate and other sources for research at MUSC hit $328,254,120 for the fiscal year that ended on June 30. Darren McCants directs the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs at MUSC. “We need to keep in mind that there's a lot of COVID-19 funding in that record funding total. COVID-19 funds represent clinical trials that were performed here. And MUSC received a substantial amount of CARES Act funding during FY 2021,” he said.


There have been multiple clinical COVID trials at MUSC. For example, researchers have been part of national studies testing COVID-19 vaccines: AstraZeneca, Janssen and Novavax in adults and Moderna in children. They’ve also evaluated COVID tests, checking the effectiveness of the Panbio and BinaxNOW self-tests and a breath test.  They’ve studied monoclonal antibodies, which have been approved for the treatment of newly infected patients. They’ve also tested the use of convalescent plasma and studied the effects of COVID-19 in critically ill children.


Patrick Flume, M.D., associate vice president for clinical research, said the trials have had a wide reach. “We enrolled more than 1,500 subjects into COVID trials in the last year. That is an amazing number.”


He called the funding success a testament to the infrastructure already in place. “It permitted us to rapidly implement the trials. This includes the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research Institute, institutional offices and the pulmonary clinical trials program, which all worked together to make it all happen, and they did it well.”

Dr. Xue-Zhong Yu 
Dr. Xue-Zhong Yu is one of many researchers at MUSC working to improve people's health through scientific discovery. Photo by Sarah Pack

The other COVID-related funding comes to MUSC through the CARES Act’s student, institutional and provider portions and the South Carolina CARES Coronavirus Relief Funds. CARES stands for Coronavirus aid, relief and economic security. It’s a federal program designed to address the pandemic’s financial toll.

While the COVID funds helped bring in millions to support MUSC and its research, they were far from the only source of funding. McCants said the National Institutes of Health played a big role, with 337 awards. “NIH represents 43.8% of MUSC’s extramural funding.”


The NIH funds MUSC research on some of the bigger health issues of our time, including cancer, heart problems and strokes. It also funds a range of other projects, including the LIBBY trial, which is testing whether a combination of THC and CBD can ease people’s final days of life; a minority student development program; a Center for Opioid and Cocaine Addiction; research on hearing loss; an Alcohol Research Center; a center that explores sex/gender differences in addiction; a study looking at possible ways to improve mental health care for children; and a digestive disease research center.


And McMahon said MUSC’s ability to shift gears when a crisis such as COVID arises bodes well for the future. “I think it shows our researchers’ readiness, their nimbleness and their ability to jump into new projects. It's going to be very important for us to continue writing and submitting research proposals to keep our extramural funding on this trajectory. And so I'm going to find ways to incentivize and support my colleagues as they continue their hard work and research productivity during this next year and forward.”

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