Innovation and Research

Due to the nature and scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare workers across the globe have had to improvise solutions in order to protect the health and well-being of their communities. At University Health, our staff and trusted partners are working proactively to combat the challenges we have seen reflected in other populations. The great asset of humans is our ability to adapt, and we have seen great innovation and research in response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis.

University Hospital Pharmacy Preparing Drugs That May Keep COVID-19 Patients Out of the Hospital

The pharmacy department at University Hospital has become the central location in San Antonio for preparing some recently approved drugs that may prevent COVID-19 patients from needing hospitalization.

In November, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use approval to two monoclonal antibody therapies developed by Eli Lilly and Regeneron. The FDA describes monoclonal antibodies as “laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system’s ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses.”

Allotments of these drugs sent to San Antonio healthcare providers are being consolidated at University Hospital. Here, in a sterile environment, they are prepared for patients at the Freeman Coliseum Regional Infusion Center operated by STRAC, the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council.

The drugs, given intravenously, have proven to be effective in preventing hospitalization for patients who are COVID-19 positive and have mild-to-moderate symptoms.

“As the hospitals are reaching that critical mass (of COVID-19 patients), this is a key tool in our arsenal for preserving valuable hospital beds,” said Elliott Mandell, senior vice president and chief pharmacy officer for University Health. “I think it is being underutilized.”

Patients need a doctor’s referral to receive the monoclonal treatment. An average of 60 patients a day at Freeman are now being infused with the drugs, and Mandell says that capacity could be expanded.

Extending the Life of N95 Masks

N95 face masks are considered the gold standard for protecting medical staff caring for patients who may spread COVID-19. Predicting a shortage of personal protective equipment, our staff invented a method to sterilize N95 masks so that they can be worn more than once. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted approval for University Health to use a hydrogen peroxide gas process to sterilize N95 masks. Since suppliers have been unable to keep up with hospital demands for N95 masks, this method ensures our staff will remain protected even during a shortage.

Developing a More Effective Mask

University Health’s Chief Nurse Executive Tommye Austin led a team to develop a new type of mask made of materials that can be sourced locally and are not in high demand during the crisis. The mask underwent rigorous testing at the Southwest Research Institute, who found it to be as effective in protecting against the fine particles and droplets that spread COVID-19 as standard-issue N95 masks.

Power Plasma Study

We’re proud to be working closely with the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center on a treatment study using the donated plasma of people who have recovered from COVID-19. “We have begun transfusing hospitalized COVID-19-positive patients with the plasma,” said Dr. Leslie Greebon, University Health’s medical director of transfusion services. “It’s too early to say how well it is working,” Dr. Greebon said, “but there have been no adverse events so far.”

People interested in donating can contact South Texas Blood & Tissue Center by email at COVID19@southtexasblood.org or call 210-731-2719.

Remdesivir Clinical Trial

Physicians at University Health are among the first in the country to help test a drug that may prove effective in treating COVID-19.

Our remdesivir clinical trial is currently the largest in the world.

The drug, remdesivir, is an experimental, antiviral therapy that may prevent the virus from reproducing in people’s bodies. The drug has been tested in people with Ebola. It also has been tested in animals in studies of the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome, MERS, and severe acute respiratory syndrome, SARS, which are caused by other coronaviruses.