Collaboration Speeds COVID-19 Research

By bringing together experts with complementary skills, knowledge and experience, NCATS helps projects cut through operational roadblocks to contribute to new knowledge about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. Read about a few of the collaborative efforts supported by NCATS that are enabling the rapid launch of clinical studies, the translation of data into knowledge and possible new solutions for further exploration:

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Building on Community Relationships to Increase Participation by Underserved and Vulnerable Populations in Research

Girl participating in a community engagement health fair.

Girl participating in a community engagement health fair. (Getty Images)

Communities of color account for more than half of all reported COVID-19 cases in the United States and historically are underrepresented in clinical research. The Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hubs have built trusting relationships with these communities by including them in research design and clinical study participation and by disseminating study outcomes to the communities. These ongoing efforts enabled the hubs to pivot rapidly to support two new NIH-wide initiatives focused on addressing health disparities exacerbated by COVID-19. The NIH Community Engagement Alliance (CEAL) Against COVID-19 Disparities is leveraging CTSA Program community engagement resources to promote and facilitate the inclusion and participation of underrepresented communities in COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials. Similarly, the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics for Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, which is focused on expanding COVID-19 testing for underserved communities, is utilizing CTSA Program Community and Collaboration Cores to connect researchers and trainees with community-engaged research activities. This work will help identify community needs and inform research priorities. In addition, six CTSA Program hubs have received RADx-UP funding.
Learn more about NCATS’ role in community engagement during the pandemic.

A Network Approach for Understanding COVID-19 and Rare Diseases

The NCATS-led Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network (RDCRN) consists of 20 collaborative clinical research teams who partner with patient groups to study how rare diseases progress and to develop better ways to diagnose and treat them. This close partnership enabled RDCRN researchers and clinicians to recognize that many people with rare diseases faced new challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic, from reduced access to needed medical care to possible heightened anxiety and stress. They launched an online survey to find out how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting individuals with rare diseases, their families and their caregivers. Results of the survey will help researchers shed light on the needs of people with rare diseases during the COVID-19 pandemic and other potential health crises, in addition to informing future research efforts.
Learn more about the survey.

Leveraging Existing Partnerships to Build a National Data Analytics Platform

N3C map

Vast amounts of data are being generated that could be used to advance research efforts focused on COVID-19. But the datasets often become too large to share, and the networks for data management are so dissimilar that they cannot be combined easily. Making data more meaningful, open and accessible is a key goal in NCATS’ efforts to improve translational science and advance research across many diseases. NCATS, in partnership with the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) Program hubs and the National Center for Data to Health (CD2H), launched an effort to build a centralized national data resource for studying COVID-19 and identifying potential treatments. The National COVID Cohort Collaborative, or N3C, is building an analytics platform to systematically collect clinical, laboratory and diagnostic data from different sources and harmonize it. Researchers can access the N3C Data Enclave analytics platform to accelerate COVID-19 research and clinical care. If successful, this approach may help answer other research questions and serve as a model for addressing future public health emergencies.
Learn more about the N3C and applying for data access.

Hongfang Liu, Ph.D., program director for informatics at Mayo Clinic, explains how collaborating with experts in other disciplines to build the N3C Data Enclave will advance the science behind COVID-19.

See more stories from the I Am Translational Science video series.

Partnering with Industry to Speed Development of Promising Treatments

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, no approved therapeutics or vaccines were available to counteract SARS-CoV-2. NIH responded swiftly with the Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines (ACTIV) initiative, a public-private partnership to coordinate development of the most promising treatments and vaccines. Alongside industry partners, NCATS has a lead role in a range of ACTIV efforts. The preclinical work focuses on the evaluation of therapeutic candidates to identify potential treatments. Two research papers from the ACTIV Preclinical Working Group offer new tools to speed drug discovery and testing. In the first paper, researchers provide a blueprint for rethinking the traditional sequential drug development approach. They propose streamlined pathways and criteria to identify the most promising therapeutic agents for COVID-19 and move them into human trials rapidly and safely. The second paper summarizes the latest guidance and insights on animal models for preclinical testing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. The review complements animal model data that are updated regularly by the working group and researchers on the NCATS OpenData Portal. In addition, NCATS is coordinating and overseeing the ACTIV-1 Immune Modulators (IM) Phase 3 clinical trial to evaluate the safety and efficacy of three immune modulator drugs in hospitalized adults with COVID-19.
Learn more about the ACTIV-1 clinical trial.

Forming New Collaborations to Jump-Start and Optimize Studies

Scientists at NCATS laboratories focus on key obstacles and inefficiencies in the translational process, overcoming bottlenecks that slow the development of new treatments for patients. They help collaborators do this, too. A prime example is the NIH serosurvey study to analyze blood samples and quantify the number of undetected coronavirus cases — information that could guide the COVID-19 response. NCATS translational scientist Matt Hall, Ph.D., who had originally proposed the idea, pulled together the collaborative team of researchers from across the NIH. Each colleague brought a different set of domain expertise and resources that enabled the team to begin recruiting study volunteers in less than a month. NCATS’ role has since expanded to include optimizing both the test used to analyze the blood samples and the data collection efforts through a new data dashboard.
Read more about the study.

Watch this video to learn how the NIH study to measure undetected COVID-19 cases came together.

A version of this video with audio description is available.

Harnessing the Power of Crowdsourcing to Share Novel Uses for Repurposed Drugs


Developed in 2013, CURE ID is an internet-based repository that provides licensed clinicians with the opportunity to report novel uses of existing drugs for difficult-to-treat infectious diseases.

Created through a collaboration between the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and NCATS, CURE ID enables the crowdsourcing of medical information from health care professionals to facilitate the development of new treatments using repurposed drugs for difficult-to-treat infectious diseases. CURE ID, which is accessible through a website, smartphone or other mobile device, was recently updated to boost the platforms effectiveness to address the COVID-19 pandemic. The app, which was developed with NCATS’ support, includes information on most clinical trials submitted to for COVID-19 drugs, biologics and vaccines, which is frequently updated. Other available information includes relevant journal articles, news articles and events. Building off the CURE ID platform, the Critical Path Institute launched the CURE Drug Repurposing Collaboratory (CDRC), a public-private partnership funded by the FDA, in collaboration with NCATS, to accelerate the identification of effective treatments and further drug development. The CDRC will demonstrate how data shared from clinicians in real-time can be used to inform ongoing and future clinical trials and potentially drug labeling.
Health care professionals can register to use the CureID app.

Learn more about NCATS’ translational approach to addressing COVID-19: