RCSI awarded €420,000 grant for Covid-19 research

1 Sep 2020

From left: RCSI’s Prof James O'Donnell; 3M Ireland country leader June Ryan; and RCSI’s Prof Steven Kerrigan. Image: 3M

3M has awarded €420,000 in funding to two RCSI research projects related to Covid-19.

Today (1 September), science-based technology company 3M announced that it has awarded a philanthropic research grant of €420,000 to the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI).

The funding was awarded through an international competitive process and aims to help the university to advance its scientific knowledge in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

US-headquartered 3M, which has operations in Dublin and Athlone, gave the funding as part of a $5m initiative to support research programmes with a focus on treatments and vaccine development for Covid-19 at educational establishments around the world.

‘Global effort to combat Covid-19’

“RCSI’s success in securing funding in this international competition is testament to the quality of the research being driven by our principal investigators,” said RCSI CEO Prof Cathal Kelly.

“As a singularly focused health sciences university, we are committed to working to address some of the most important unanswered questions in healthcare through research and innovation, with the patient at the centre of everything we do. I am proud that our researchers have joined their international peers in a global effort to combat Covid-19.”

Dr Chris Lessing, medical affairs leader at 3M, added: “Science is at the heart of 3M and we are committed to advancing the rapid study of this virus as part of our continued effort to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We hope that the grant to RCSI, which is renowned for its clinical and research expertise, will continue to contribute to the international body of knowledge on Covid-19 and lead to improved patient outcomes.”

Funding will be provided to research projects at RCSI focusing on two specific areas of interest – the formation of micro blood clots within the lung, and the ability of the drug Cilengitide to slow or stop the virus from causing severe damage leading to sepsis.

Covid-19 and blood clots

The first team of researchers at RCSI, the Irish Centre for Vascular Biology and St James’s Hospital in Dublin is led by Prof James O’Donnell. The team has demonstrated that Covid-19 may be associated with a unique type of blood clotting disorder that is primarily focused within the lung and can contribute to high levels of patient mortality.

Previous research by the team has shown that Irish patients with severe cases of Covid-19 and a higher level of blood clotting activity had a significantly worse prognosis and were more likely to require intensive care admission.

The team’s latest project will investigate the mechanisms through which Covid-19 triggers the formation of these micro-clots so that more effective treatments for patients can be developed, particularly for those in high-risk groups.

The potential impact of Cilengitide

The second study, led by Prof Steven Kerrigan, builds on recent evidence that the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 expresses a protein on its surface that recognises a specific receptor on human cells called integrins.

Once the virus binds to the integrin, it results in the release of sustained and excessive signals that circulate around the body, leading to sepsis. Previous work by the team has identified that the drug Cilengitide could block the integrin on human cells.

This new research will investigate the ability of Cilengitide to prevent the coronavirus from binding to human cells and therefore slowing or stopping the virus from causing severe and potentially long-lasting damage to the body.

It builds on pre-clinical research carried out by Kerrigan’s team, which was supported by the Enterprise Ireland commercialisation funding programme, that demonstrated Cilengitide has the potential to stop progression of sepsis. Plans to advance these findings into human clinical trials through an RCSI spin-out company, called InnovoSep, are currently underway.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic