By Samantha Karam, Staff Writer, and Alec Stone, ONS Public Affairs Director

Federal Agencies Collaborate to Research COVID-19 Antibody Tests 

It’s all hands on deck to combat a pandemic from an unknown virus, and researchers everywhere—even from seemingly unrelated disciplines like oncology—are jumping in to study tests, vaccines, and treatments. Effective May 5, 2020, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is partnering with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other federal agencies to research antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.  

As of May 5, FDA authorized emergency use of 12 tests that identify whether individuals have measurable levels of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. But according to NCI, multiple additional tests are commercially available that FDA hasn’t reviewed.  

“Reviewing the accuracy of SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests is a collaborative effort between FDA, NCI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority in the Department of Health and Human Services, Mount Sinai Health System, and others,” NCI staff said.  

Nurse Proposes Bill to Support Healthcare Workers and Patients During COVID-19  

On May 11, 2020, U.S. Representative Lauren Underwood (D-IL), a nurse by training, and colleagues introduced new legislation to increase healthcare training and jobs during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

The Health Force and Resilience Force Act would reinfuse America's frontline healthcare providers with education and training to ensure public support for a safer patient population. Introducing the bill is a timely homage to nurses during National Nurses Week, and, if passed, it will have a lasting impact on the profession. 

According to Underwood, the bill would support training for healthcare professionals in conducting contact tracing, administering COVID-19 tests, and providing support to affected patients.   

“After the current public health crisis concludes, the Health Force would continue to support state and local public health departments to address ongoing public health needs and respond to future public health emergencies,” Underwood said. “We are facing a once-in-a-generation crisis, and this bill is a bold solution that rises to meet the great challenge ahead of us." 

NCI Shifts Cancer Research to Address COVID-19 

Although cancer continues to be its research priority, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) is applying some of its expertise to address aspects of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.  

Recent major NCI contributions include researching a new protocol for tocilizumab, which is used to treat cytokine release syndrome, a side effect of certain cancer immunotherapies that’s also seen in patients with COVID-19; publishing two notices of special interest for urgent, competitive revisions and administrative supplements; and publishing a third notice on redirecting grant resources to COVID-19–related research

Soon NCI will launch a longitudinal cohort study of at least 2,000 COVID-19–positive patients with cancer to develop a comprehensive database to understand the virus’s implications for cancer care.   

“Many cancer researchers want to use their expertise and creativity to contribute to understanding COVID-19,” the agency announced on May 14, 2020. “But, like all of you, we are also maintaining a clear focus on advancing our cancer research mission.”