COVID-19 Research and Care Responses from the School of Pharmacy
From directly supporting the front lines of health care to boldly exploring potential cures, our School has stepped up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, applying a scientific mindset to every challenge raised during the crisis. This resource, listing ongoing COVID-19-related projects in the UCSF School of Pharmacy, will be updated regularly.
Last updated October 5, 2020.
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- Supporting the front lines of COVID-19 health care
- Rapid testing for COVID-19 infection and immunity
- Evaluating clinical treatments in COVID-19 patients
- Discovering better therapies for COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is putting an unprecedented strain on our health care system. From providing pharmacist expertise in the ICU, to ensuring that all health care providers are provisioned to protect themselves while treating patients and saving lives, the School is working to keep patient care uninterrupted and safe during this crisis.
Collecting and distributing personal protective equipment (PPE)
In cooperation with local pharmacy stores and delivery services, as well as the California Pharmacists Association (CPhA) and the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), our doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) students, as well as staff and faculty from the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, are helping Bay Area hospitals with their personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages by collecting and redistributing PPE.
Push for California to recognize pharmacists as essential frontline health care providers
Thirteen pharmacy school deans, including UCSF’s Dean B. Joseph Guglielmo, co-signed a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom asking him to declare “pharmacists and licensed intern pharmacists as essential front-line health care providers as part of the COVID-19 emergency declaration.”
B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, dean, UCSF School of Pharmacy
Tracking how the provision of hormonal contraception by pharmacists has changed during the pandemic
A group of three PharmD students interviewed the staff of several pharmacies in San Francisco that have provided hormonal contraception to patients under California’s recently expanded practice rules for pharmacists. They also tracked how demand for these new services has been affected by COVID-19. The team found three practices—administrative support, pharmacist engagement, and advertising—that could be used by other community pharmacies to encourage pharmacists to take part in providing this vital service to patients.
Lauren Chen, Class of 2021
Julie Lim, Class of 2021
Asher Jeong, Class of 2021
Dorie E. Apollonio, PhD, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Implementation of hormonal contraceptive furnishing in San Francisco community pharmacies Journal of the American Pharmacists Association (JAPhA)
Expanding capacity for patients at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital
Several licensed pharmacists on the School’s faculty have volunteered to staff the COVID-19-dedicated 6th floor of San Francisco’s Saint Francis Memorial Hospital to provide clinical pharmacy care for COVID-19 patients, if necessary. The team is currently on standby.
B. Joseph Guglielmo, PharmD, dean, UCSF School of Pharmacy
Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Inside Dignity Health’s new COVID-19 unit (San Francisco Business Times)
Collaborative tracking of COVID-19 treatment options
Conan MacDougall authored a paper about the role of the clinical pharmacist during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also built a mapping tool that tracks hospitals that are participating in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Expanded Use Access program for the antiviral drug, remdesivir.
Conan MacDougall, PharmD, MAS, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Papers and online tools
- Roles of the clinical pharmacist during the COVID‐19 pandemic (Journal of the American College of Clinical Pharmacy)
- Remdesivir Emergency Use Authorization Map (Mapping tool)
Haphazard Rollout of Coronavirus Drug Frustrates Doctors (The New York Times)
Assisting with poisons and overdoses
The California Poison Control System (CPCS), administered by the Department of Clinical Pharmacy, plays a vital role with resolving poisonings and drug overdoses for the state. During the pandemic, CPCS has fielded increased calls from the public and from health care providers relating to both accidental and intentional exposure to sanitization products. CPCS has also received CARES Act funding that it is using to support staff and infrastructure improvements and to produce video and audio PSAs advising the public about poison prevention strategies.
CPCS provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and referral over the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous or toxic substances. Pharmacists, nurses, and poison information providers answer the calls to 1-800-222-1222 and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Language interpreters are always available; just say the language you need when you call.
Stuart Heard, PharmD, executive director, California Poison Control System
Engineering PPE materials and vaccine delivery
Tejal Desai is actively working with collaborators across UCSF to develop nanoparticle-based strategies for an eventual SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Her lab is also developing ways to give fabrics N95 filtering capabilities.
Tejal Desai, PhD, chair, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
Personal protective equipment and ICU equipment
Shuvo Roy worked with UCSF clinical engineering and supply chain teams and UC Berkeley engineers to help develop new personal protective equipment (PPE), including 3D-printed face shields and masks. He is also looking into ways of repurposing the silicon nanomembranes of the implantable bioartificial kidney, which is in development in his lab, to oxygenate patient blood directly, instead of through the use of mechanical ventilators.
Shuvo Roy, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
When a patient now arrives at an urgent care facility with a fever and a cough, health care providers must quickly distinguish between a case of seasonal influenza and the more contagious—and more deadly—COVID-19. School faculty members and PhD students are working on optimizing existing tests and designing new, faster tests so patients can receive test results in hours, opening the door sooner to the proper level of care. Our researchers are also developing tests for the antibodies that the human body makes to fight off COVID-19 infection, which will be crucial for determining which people in the community may have immunity.
A faster, complementary test for SARS-CoV-2, and a test for immunity
Jim Wells is developing a test to detect the viral protein package that shepherds SARS-CoV-2 into human cells, which will complement existing PCR-based tests for the virus. He is also engineering an ultra-sensitive test for the antibodies that the human immune system makes to fight off COVID-19, which could be indicative of immunity to the disease.
Jim Wells, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
COVID-19 is a novel disease, but a variety of existing drugs have already been identified as potential treatments. The School has the expertise to validate and optimize any drug or medical device interventions that promise to save lives, and it is actively involved in clinical trials and outcome monitoring of COVID-19 patients at UCSF Health and throughout the Bay Area.
Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin in COVID-19 treatment
Rada Savic, Erika Wallender, and Francesca Aweeka are combining an understanding of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, with all available pharmacological and safety data on hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, two drugs under investigation for their effectiveness in treating the disease. The group will also develop a generalizable strategy for drug repurposing in COVID-19 treatment.
Rada Savic, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
Erika Wallender, MD, MPH, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Francesca Aweeka, PharmD, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Pharmacoepidemiology of COVID-19 at UCSF Health
Faculty members in the UCSF Medication Outcomes Center have begun a yearlong pharmacoepidemiology study of COVID-19 patients at UCSF Health. Led by Trang Trinh and Rosa Rodriguez-Monguio, the team will evaluate medication use patterns including specific drug classes, such as ACE inhibitors, NSAIDs, and antimicrobials, on COVID-19 patients’ progression and recovery. The objective of this research is to describe their experience managing COVID-19 patients with a focus on medication use and associated costs. She will also compare the management of COVID-19 patients with the management of patients with influenza.
Department of Clinical Pharmacy
Remdesivir in COVID-19 treatment
Kathy Yang is assisting in numerous studies of remdesivir in COVID-19 treatment occurring at UCSF, including an ACTT trial, compassionate use and expanded access authorizations, and the recent Emergency Use Authorization.
- Katherine Yang, PharmD, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
- Annie Luetkemeyer, MD, School of Medicine
- Sarah Doernberg, MD, MAS, School of Medicine
Minimizing adverse drug interactions during COVID-19 treatment
Kathy Giacomini is investigating interactions between potential COVID-19 therapies and other drugs that patients may be prescribed, aiming to identify interactions that clinicians should be aware of when caring for these patients.
Kathy Giacomini, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
A video summary on the clinical evidence of interferons for COVID-19 treatment
Trang Trinh produced a 20 minute video explaining the pharmacology and clinical evidence of interferons in light of their potential to treat COVID-19. Interferons are proteins produced by the body to activate the immune system and "interfere" with viruses that cause infections, such as COVID-19. Interferons are also a class of drugs that are used to treat conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis, and hepatitis C infection.
Trang D. Trinh, PharmD, MPH, Department of Clinical Pharmacy
A retrospective look at the cardiac effects of hydroxychloroquine
Isaac Cohen, along with colleagues from around the country, combed through over 66,000 U.S. FDA adverse event reports relating to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two drugs under consideration as treatments of COVID-19, with a focus on cardiac side effects. The research showed that both drugs increase the risk of cardiac adverse events, and the authors suggest that health care providers consider other therapies for COVID-19 in patients predisposed to cardiovascular complications.
Isaac Cohen, PharmD, UCSF Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics Postdoctoral Training Program
With expertise in countering disease at the molecular level of proteins and genes, our discovery scientists are pursuing new and more effective ways to treat COVID-19, which is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These efforts range from seeking out therapies among existing, FDA-approved medications, to hunting for novel drugs that will disrupt the virus’s ability to invade human cells and replicate.
How SARS-CoV-2 affects the heart
Todd McDevitt is investigating how SARS-CoV-2 infection affects laboratory-grown human heart cells and heart tissue. In collaboration with several additional UCSF faculty members, he is focusing on how the virus enters heart cells via the human ACE2 receptor and exploring ways of disrupting this process.
Todd McDevitt, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Gladstone Institutes
Bruce Conklin, PhD, School of Medicine, Gladstone Institutes
Martin Kampmann, PhD, School of Medicine
Faranak Fattahi, PhD, School of Medicine
Nevan Krogan, PhD, director, UCSF Quantitative Biosciences Institute
Exploring repurposing of hypertension medications for COVID-19
Su Guo is investigating the relationship between certain medications used for the treatment of hypertension (high blood pressure), heart failure, and COVID-19. She is looking into how anti-hypertensive medications (ACEI and ARBs) interact with the gene ACE2, which is responsible for COVID-19 entry into cells.
Su Guo, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Harnessing innate immunity to counter SARS-CoV-2
John Gross is studying how SARS-CoV-2 suppresses the human immune processes that normally prevent viral infection. He is focusing on how coronaviruses shut off gene expression and co-opt the protein degradation machinery in human cells.
John Gross, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Decoy proteins for fighting SARS-CoV-2 infection
With a team of researchers in the laboratories of Tanja Kortemme and James Wells, postdocs Anum Glasgow and Jeff Glasgow have designed high-affinity “decoy" versions of the human ACE-2 receptor that bind tightly to the SARS-CoV-2 “spike” protein. These “receptor traps” neutralize the virus in cell culture as potently as high-affinity antibodies, and are promising therapeutic candidates for further testing in animal models and as a potential aerosol drug.
- Tanja Kortemme, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
- James Wells, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Crystallographic fragment screen of SARS-CoV-2 macrodomain
James Fraser is developing inhibitors of a SARS-CoV-2 protein called the macrodomain. In collaboration with researchers at the Advanced Light Source at Berkeley Lab and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Fraser used X-ray crystallography to map the structure of the macrodomain, and then tested the ability of hundreds of small chemical fragments to bind to the protein. The data from this project has been made public and Fraser is now using these fragments to build a drug to prevent the virus from replicating in human cells.
James Fraser, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
Integrative structure determination of SARS-CoV-2-human protein complexes
Andrej Sali is contributing towards determining the structures of the protein complexes formed by SARS-CoV-2 proteins and human proteins, with the goal of understanding the role of these complexes during viral entry into human cells and viral replication.
Andrej Sali, PhD, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences
Therapeutics aimed at the corona of the novel coronavirus
William DeGrado is developing proteins that bind to the spike protein that dots the outside of the SARS-CoV-2 protein envelope. The work may lead to improved diagnostics for active infection and new therapeutics.
William DeGrado, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
The role of protein degradation in SARS-CoV-2 infection
Charles Craik is studying how viral and human proteases (enzymes that break down other proteins) are used during SARS-CoV-2 replication, which is required for the virus to spread among human cells. Two proteases of interest include 3CLPro, a major viral protease, and TMPRSS2, a host protease that is involved in virus entry. He is also working on approaches for detection of neutralizing antibodies to the virus, found in patients with COVID-19, as well as inhibitory antibodies for passive immunization and a safe version of the virus for active immunization.
Charles Craik, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Choosing the most promising COVID-19 drug candidates with machine learning
Michael Keiser and Luca Ponzoni are developing a new system for analyzing the 3D interactions between COVID-19 drug candidates and their viral or human host protein targets. The work, carried out in collaboration with the Accelerating Therapeutics for Opportunities in Medicine (ATOM) consortium and QCRG, will enable scientists to use machine learning to more precisely prioritize these drug candidates for laboratory testing, and eventually clinical trials.
Michael Keiser, PhD, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry
Luca Ponzoni, PhD, Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease
Accelerating Therapeutics for Opportunities in Medicine (ATOM) consortium
Collaborating to find cures among existing medications
The Quantitative Biosciences Institute (QBI), helmed by Director Nevan Krogan, has mobilized over 40 UCSF faculty members to find already-available drugs that might interfere with how the SARS-CoV-2 virus uses human cells in an infection. The group, dubbed the QBI Coronavirus Research Group (QCRG), initially identified 69 candidate drugs, 49 of which were then tested for activity against live SARS-CoV-2 by collaborating labs. Five FDA-approved medications, which were originally designed to treat conditions as varied as malaria and mental illness, were effective against SARS-CoV-2 in the lab, along with a number of experimental therapies that have yet to be approved. The next step for the research will involve testing these drugs in animal models of COVID-19 and eventually clinical trials with human subjects.
Nevan Krogan, PhD, director