PHILADELPHIA—As part of a pledge to coronavirus medical relief efforts, NBA All-Star Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers, along with the team’s managing partner, Josh Harris, and co-managing partner, David Blitzer, today announced a combined contribution of $1.3 million to Penn Medicine, establishing a funding campaign for COVID-19 antibody testing of front line health care workers.
“During this pandemic, many doctors and nurses are working like soldiers on the front lines of a war and they need to be provided with as much armor as possible in this battle,” Embiid said. “COVID-19 antibody testing can help Philadelphia health care workers at this critical time, and we need to do everything possible to help those heroes who are putting their lives at risk to help us.”
“The only way for us to get through this terrible global crisis is to ensure a safe work environment for health care professionals and ultimately find a treatment for COVID-19,” said Harris, a graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “We are very proud to partner with the incredible team at Penn Medicine, who are tirelessly working towards this by identifying immunity in our brave doctors and nurses. Joel has been a leader in highlighting the urgent need for this kind of testing—David and I thank him for his leadership in this area and are excited to join forces with him. Our medical workers are on the frontlines of this crisis, have been hit hardest by it and need all the help and support we can give them. We have rough days ahead, but with collective action like this, together we will make it through.”
“Penn Medicine’s commitment to protect public health during this COVID-19 crisis is nothing short of heroic,” said Blitzer, who is also a graduate of Wharton. “We proudly support Penn’s courageous and talented staff who have put their community first and are making the biggest sacrifices among us. Joel’s recognition of this crucial effort is consistent with his tremendous character, and together, we will help fight this dangerous virus.”
The pledge from Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will provide a much-needed boost for efforts to quickly identify health care workers who may have immunity to the new virus.
“We are enormously grateful to Joel Embiid, Josh Harris, and David Blitzer for stepping up in a time of great need with forward-thinking philanthropy—helping us to understand COVID-19 through the lens of precision medicine,” said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann. “We will take this new and powerful knowledge about how our bodies react to the virus and use it to protect our healthcare heroes, sharing these lessons with the City of Philadelphia and across the world.”
The gifts will support new experimental serology tests that detect antibodies to determine if a person has ever been infected with the virus—identifying staff and providers that might have immunity. The team research effort is being led by Scott Hensley, PhD, an associate professor of Microbiology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Antibody testing allows us to determine if our health care workers have been exposed to the virus and who might be immune, allowing us to prioritize care to reduce risk to them and to patients. It will also be critical in another Penn-designed clinical trial that is being conducted to see if the plasma collected from individuals who have recovered from an infection can be successfully used to treat sick patients,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and Dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. “This antibody testing will be a critical component of several other Penn projects designed to combat and prevent this disease, all of which have come to the forefront of our institution’s priorities.”
The generous support of Embiid, Harris and Blitzer will enable Penn Medicine researchers to immediately scale testing to 1,000 health care workers in the region. With additional support as the funding campaign continues, the research team hopes to increase testing to include more health care workers, and others, such as police officers and EMS workers, on the front lines of the pandemic.
“Learning more about how to determine who is immune to COVID-19 is important for our efforts to better equip hospitals with the knowledge needed to safely deploy their staff to care for patients as the epidemic continues,” Hensley said.
Serology tests require deep expertise in immunology. Penn has the largest single-institution immunology community in the nation, numbering more than 200 experts who have harnessed the immune system to develop groundbreaking approaches to fight HIV and other infectious diseases, cancer, autoimmune diseases, and heart disease. Their work has included the first FDA approvals for CAR T cell therapies for pediatric and adult blood cancers, and vaccine research that’s paving the road to functional cures for HIV.