amfAR, Fashion, Fine Art: Pulling Together for COVID-19 Research

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First grants awarded through amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19

NEW YORK, NEW YORK, July 28, 2020—After taking a strategic decision to temporarily expand its efforts to include research on COVID-19, in April amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, launched the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19. Within the space of just a few weeks, the Foundation was able to orchestrate a pair of virtual international fundraising events to support the Fund, and today it announced its first grants for research on the novel coronavirus.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to quickly pivot to answer critical new scientific questions or respond to emerging opportunities in the field of HIV research,” said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s Chief Executive Officer. “So we’re pleased to be able to apply that same grant-making speed and flexibility to COVID-19 and to lend our experience, expertise and resources to the effort to halt this deadly new pandemic.” 

amfAR has long enjoyed close ties with the fashion and fine arts communities, staunch supporters of the fight against AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic. In May, amfAR teamed up with Carine Roitfeld and CR Runway, as well as Derek Blasberg, head of fashion and beauty at YouTube, to stage a virtual fashion show to support the amfAR Fund to Fight COVID-19. The 30-minute “runway” show featured top fashion models in their homes, garnered close to 350,000 views on YouTube, and raised tens of thousands of dollars.

On July 15, amfAR partnered with auction house Christies’s in an online auction of artworks generously donated by renowned artists including Cecily Brown, George Condo, Eddie Martinez, Dana Schutz, and Richard Serra. Several of the works had been created during lockdown and had never been seen by the public. The auction raised nearly $1.5 million.

With these proceeds, amfAR was able to move ahead with its first research grants from the Fund to Fight COVID-19.  A common and often deadly consequence of advanced COVID-19 disease is acute kidney injury. Cells in the kidney express the ACE2 protein, which serves as a receptor for the virus and may underlie the kidney damage. Dr. Matthias Kretzler of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, was awarded $155,650 to use a clever technique to understand what happens in the kidney of those with COVID-19. Instead of risking the safety of patients already suffering the grueling consequences of the infection by taking kidney biopsies, he will study kidney cells that are excreted in the urine. Doing so will allow him to understand changes that occur in the kidney while the disease is getting worse, and to understand the signs that indicate that patients are on the mend. By comparing patients receiving anti-inflammatory treatment to those who are not, he will develop a tool that can predict who would most benefit from this kind of treatment.

A second grant of $192,000 was awarded to Dr. Daniel Kaufmann of the University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for a study of antibody responses to COVID-19.This grant allows amfAR to tap into the enormous investment made by the Quebec COVID-19 Biobank, established at the beginning of the pandemic to collect biological samples from patients admitted to the hospital. These banked samples, collected from the time of admission through several months of follow-up, will allow Dr. Kaufmann and his team to answer why some people develop antibodies and others do not, how we can predict whether those antibodies will protect against reinfection, and how long the protection will last. The results will provide valuable information to inform the design of vaccines to protect people from acquiring SARS-CoV-2.

“While SARS-CoV-2 has yielded some of its answers much faster than HIV, there are pressing scientific questions that still need answering” said Dr. Rowena Johnston, amfAR vice president and director of research. “These two grants launch an effort to broaden the range of effective treatments for COVID-19, and to prevent the disease from occurring in the first place.”