Spokane Journal of Business

Allen foundation study to aid virus response

$3.4M UW research to determine state’s infection prevalence

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The Washington state Department of Health and the University of Washington Medicine, backed by the Seattle-based philanthropic organization Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, have launched a major study to determine the percentage of Washingtonians who have been infected by COVID-19.

UW Medicine’s Virology Laboratory will conduct the study in close partnership with state and local public health agencies, sampling across rural and urban populations throughout the state and within racially, ethnically and, socioeconomically diverse communities.

The study is funded by a $3.4 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation and builds on the philanthropic organization’s previous support of UW Medicine’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, which has raised more than $30 million to date.

“Comprehensive, high-quality data that statistically represents Washington’s diverse communities and populations is critical to support the state’s health care response and reopening,” says Jody Allen, co-founder and chairwoman of the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation.

The study is scheduled to involve 7,000 participants who will receive a diagnostic COVID-19 test followed by three antibody tests over the course of eight months.

“This statewide study will provide a necessary baseline understanding of COVID-19 presence in communities to inform smart policy decisions as we all move forward with Washington’s economic and health recovery,” says Allen, who is the sister of the late Microsoft Corp. co-founder and foundation namesake Paul G. Allen.

By including 7,000 participants, the study will provide statistically valid information about the distribution of COVID-19 in communities within Washington state. The results of the first antibody tests will indicate the baseline prevalence of infection to date.

Dr. Keith Jerome, head of the Virology Division at UW Medicine, says, “As one of the first in the country to develop a COVID-19 test, UW Medicine has invested millions of dollars to build significant capacity for both COVID-19 and antibody testing at scale.”

Jerome is the principal investigator for the study and directs multiple virology labs. Dr. Mark Wener, who directs the UW Medicine’s immunology division, will serve as the co-investigator and assist in the implementation of study protocols.

In addition to infection rates, the study will examine how long COVID-19 antibodies persist. That data will inform the Department of Health’s assessments and safety guidelines to control COVID-19 infections in communities across the state.

The antibody tests will be processed at the UW Medicine Virology Lab, using the Abbott Architect SARS-CoV-2 IgG assay, which has been shown to have a high degree of accuracy, to ensure that the resulting data is valid for use in statewide policy decisions. UW Medicine scientists were involved in evaluating the specificity of the test and are confident of its accuracy.

Gov. Jay Inslee says the data to be collected during the study will be a crucial tool in fighting the pandemic and reopening the economy.

“This study and partnership will provide vital insights about the trajectory of COVID-19 in Washington, informing our response and allowing us to better protect Washingtonians,” Inslee says.

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