Competition Takes a Back Seat in the Fight Against COVID-19June 2021
Topics: Public Health, Disease Outbreaks, Data Analytics, Disease Transmission, Software Engineering (General), Partnerships
As COVID-19 spread tragically around the globe, it quickly became apparent that defeating this world-changing new virus would require a bold, multidisciplinary approach.
Leading organizations and companies from the technology, healthcare, and other sectors coalesced in a unique partnership with MITRE at its hub. “The Fight Is in Us” (TFIIU), a campaign emerging from the COVID-19 Healthcare Coalition, encouraged virus survivors to donate plasma. Survivors’ plasma carries COVID antibodies that may help others survive the virus.
But that was just the starting point. The TFIIU campaign is a model of how public-private and cross-sector partnerships rely on MITRE as a mission-focused, trusted partner when the stakes are high, and the facts are still emerging.
“This effort includes more than 1,000 private sector partners, as well as the federal government. MITRE is the glue that’s holding the partnership together,” says Katy Warren, a leading cloud engineer at MITRE. We hosted TheFightIsInUs.org and managed its continually expanding content in English and Spanish.
Fighting the Virus on Multiple Fronts
Convalescent plasma therapies were only intended to hold the line until other therapies came along. “We set up a single-point website so people could register to donate plasma at blood or plasma centers that were nearest and most convenient to them,” says Dr. Brian Anderson, MITRE’s chief medical health physician.
The site drew more than 7 million visits. It became a source for the latest information about convalescent COVID plasma (CCP) research and generated more than 100,000 donation referrals. CCP is estimated to have saved 30,000 to 40,000 lives, Anderson says.
In addition, the coalition tracked research into the safest and most effective applications of monoclonal antibodies. These are synthetic antibodies that, when administered early, can reduce COVID mortality by 70 to 80 percent. Anderson says that information has not gotten the public attention it deserved because it was emerging at the same time vaccines were becoming available.
As vaccines gained approval, TFIIU stakeholders built an eligibility tool linked with every state’s COVID vaccine task force. A person would enter a ZIP code and answer basic questions the region used to screen vaccine candidates to determine eligibility. Those who qualified were directed to the state website to make a vaccine appointment. The site now features a vaccine locator that patients can use to find shots near them.
Emerging Therapies Took a Back Seat to Vaccines
The vaccine rollout was positive news, Anderson says, but “sadly, not much attention was being paid to what was happening to the 60,000 people testing COVID positive every day.” That’s why monoclonal antibodies are heavily underused, he says. Still, the coalition has continued efforts to educate patients and doctors about their benefits. The TFIIU website has a section dedicated to information about monoclonals and a bot to direct patients and doctors to infusion centers.
The site also has a section where clinicians can read the latest submitted studies about COVID, how it spreads, and how different populations are responding to a variety of treatments.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and a lack of awareness about COVID,” Warren says. “COVID has only been around for a little over a year. Knowledge, clinical trials, historical evidence—all of it is very new and still evolving. The coalition is sharing information on a lot of studies, research, work to understand the baseline COVID-19, the variants, and how to treat them.”
A Trusted Partner Focused on a Shared Mission
This ongoing work illustrates the power of nontraditional coalitions like the one MITRE coordinates. Many of the stakeholders associated with TFIIU are fierce competitors, Anderson notes. “The only entity that they would trust with all their data, their locations, schedules, intellectual property, was MITRE,” he says.
That fact exemplifies the unique role MITRE plays as a trusted partner to both the public and private sectors. “I think the words ‘convener’ or ‘coordinator’ are almost used derisively. The opportunity for MITRE is certainly to bring people together, but also to help drive to impact by coordinating toward a specific goal. People trust us enough to lead them through that competition and competitive drive so that we may collectively do profound things.”
—by Molly Manchenton and Aishia Caryn Freeman