Can a test shape the right COVID treatment? | University of Maryland Eastern Shore Marketing Retarget Pixel

Can a test shape the right COVID treatment?

  • UMES alum and private-sector partners think they found one that works

    Tuesday, April 13, 2021

    A partnership between UMES and a Dorchester County biotech company has produced promising results for a test to guide treatment options for newly diagnosed COVID19 patients. 

    Pending emergency authorization by the federal government, the test shows potential in helping identify effective treatment protocols while alleviating pressure on resources, including healthcare providers on the frontlines. 

    "As soon as we get … the rigorous FDA approval and authorization process, we'll be able to get … this test directly into the hands of labs and clinicians all around the country, and hopefully, the world," Dr. Rob Figliozzi told WBAL TV. 

    Figliozzi, a 2020 University of Maryland Eastern Shore alumnus, earned his doctorate in pharmaceutical sciences with a specialization in toxicology.  He's been putting human DNA samples from COVID patients through a rigorous analysis of “biomarkers,” looking for indicators that can project potential seriousness of the infection. 

    "What we found was, that, we're able to detect the severity of the COVID-19 disease based on these biomarkers," Figliozzi said in an interview with WBOC TV. 

    A year ago, Figliozzi was working with IES Life Sciences Inc. in Cambridge, Md., which had been focused on developing technology involving its research on lupus and cancer-detection when the pandemic was declared.  The team of scientists shifted its attention to taking on the COVID-19 virus. 

    Figliozzi did his doctoral research under Dr. Victor Hsia, who conducts research on the herpes virus, which shares some characteristics with the COVID version.  Figliozzi's familiarity with Hsia's work helped guide the UMES-IES research partnership in concentrating on biomarkers to gauge how a body's immune system responds to the new disease. 

    “We're looking at individuals' ... total immune health, and how they're responding to this infection," Dr. Figliozzi said in an interview with WUSA TV in Washington, D.C.  "And we're grouping them into little groups. And different groups have different severity levels.” 

    Dr. Ronald Jubin, IES' co-founder and its chief science officer, said the research efforts have been aimed at developing a roadmap that provides physicians more information about how develop a customized treatment strategy. 

    "What you're going to get [is] … maybe two or three levels,” Jubin said in an interview with WUSA.  “So, no disease, low disease, high disease." 

    "The doctor needs to look at and say 'if I score - if a patient has a score of 10, or a one or a five,” he said, “they need to easily understand what that means.” 

    IES's chief executive officer David Spiegel has seen COVID's impact up close. 

    “My cousin died on a Saturday from COVID,” he said.  “My mother died on the Sunday from COVID ... (the) same weekend." 

    Figliozzi said a challenge has been trying to measure if an infected patient's immune system reacts favorably and causes little or no life-threatening symptoms -- or will the virus cause what is known medically as “cytosine storm.” 

    "The virus,” he said, “is hiding from your immune system.  The cytosine -- the biomarkers -- (is) being suppressed in ways, and others are being over activated in ways.” 

    “That overreaction and under reaction is what leads to bad symptomology," Figliozzi told TV reporters. 

    "We need to catch people as early as we can," he said in his interview with WBAL.  “It's really exciting.”

    Attributed quotes in this report were drawn from broadcast reports by WBAL in Baltimore, WBOC in Salisbury and WUSA in Washington, D.C