PAUL KLOTMAN & MARY KLOTMAN: Science and facts matter in the fight against COVID-19

Saturday, May 16, 2020 -- This novel virus is not influenced by blogs and opinions. The infection rate, morbidity and mortality cannot be spun. The good news is that science and facts will save us.

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Paul Klotman is President, CEO and Executive Dean of Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Mary Klotman is Dean of the Duke University School of Medicine and Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University.

The past decade has seen a dangerous rise of anti-scientific thought and a bias against facts, perhaps best exemplified by the anti-vaccine movement. Now, a global pandemic is highlighting the importance of science, public health, research infrastructure and sources of scientifically grounded truth.

The world also desperately needs a well-trained work force that can translate medical and scientific knowledge into clinical care and public health. Academic health systems are uniquely positioned to lead in this moment given their integrated missions of clinical care, research and education, and they will maximize their effectiveness by forming effective partnerships among themselves, with federal funding agencies and with industry.

This novel virus is not influenced by blogs and opinions. The infection rate, morbidity and mortality cannot be spun.  The good news is that science and facts will save us.

Public health measures have already shown us how to control viral spread.

Basic science will provide a deeper understanding of how the virus interacts with and causes disease in humans, which is leading to new targets and strategies for treatment and prevention. Clinical trials of candidate therapeutics and vaccines will distinguish between what is effective and what is not, so we can quickly move away from speculation and opinion to effective strategies for care.

Many such strategies are already under investigation in well-developed clinical trials. These studies will allow us to discard ineffective interventions and focus on the effective ones.  A vaccine or effective therapeutic must be developed before we can return to normalcy.

All of this can be facilitated and accelerated by enhanced collaboration and sharing of data both among academic health systems, and with biotech, pharmaceutical and technology companies. These partnerships can solve the problem through discovery, clinical trials, and ultimately implementation.

We have seen the road map of effective partnerships between academic health systems, funding agencies and industry with the dramatic history of HIV, also a global challenge. The establishment of national networks for therapeutic and prevention trials moved new drugs and strategies rapidly through rigorous stages of evaluation for safety and efficacy, and this model should work extremely well with this pandemic.

The creation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) under President George W. Bush to make antiretrovirals available globally markedly moved the needle on the spread of HIV throughout Africa. These partnerships can change the world and, in fact, in 2007 Dr. Anthony Fauci received the Lasker Award for facilitating the establishment of PEPFAR.

This same approach will work with coronaviruses as well if academic health systems lead by continued efforts to break down barriers to collaboration. And hopefully, the anti-science and anti-vaccine voices will fade into the background, where they belong.

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