In January, Frederick Jiang was in China, watching the COVID-19 crisis unfold in Wuhan and other cities. After quarantining for two weeks, he called a meeting with his colleagues at Elixell Therapeutics to discuss what they could do to prepare for what was likely to become a serious crisis in the United States.
Frederick and his colleagues know that one of the most effective prevention tools against respiratory infections is masks, especially high quality medical grade masks. At the time, there still wasn’t much mainstream discussion in the United States around masks. But the team knew it had worked in China, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea and that it would be critical to the response efforts within the United States. The challenge would be securing sufficient supply to protect a large number of people.
Frederick and his team began trying to buy masks from suppliers. Even though it was relatively early in the global pandemic, it was already difficult to get supplies. Frederick reached out to many friends in New York, New Jersey, and China to find sources of masks. The Elixell Therapeutics team were eventually able to secure a supply of masks just before the outbreak and PPE shortage in New York and New Jersey. To pay for the urgently needed supplies, they raised money from the local Chinese American communities in Kansas City.
Because of their early insight and quick action, Elixell Therapeutics was able to donate over 10,000 medical grade masks to the University of Kansas Medical Center, Lawrence Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Hospital, St. Luke’s, and other local healthcare organizations over four months. Throughout that time, they also sourced other PPE and hand sanitizers that were donated to organizations in need of critical supplies.
Frederick says their experience with the mask donations strengthened their collaborations with the community. The team appreciated the opportunity to help local people and support the valuable work of area hospitals. Frederick’s broader request for the community is to promote local biotechnology startups as well as the institutes and talent here in the midwest; “Biotech startups are the stars in Boston, San Diego, and San Francisco. But here in the Midwest they don’t usually attract a lot of attention from the general public. This industry actually creates lots of value for society. We really need to utilize our resources to promote technology development in the Midwest,” says Frederick.
While Frederick is concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on research at startups and universities, he’s still optimistic about the future. In response to the pandemic, Frederick found the need to pivot the focus of one of his diagnostics companies over to SARS-CoV2 testing. Fortunately, that company has done relatively well but research and fundraising at Elixell has slowed.
When asked about the overall impact of the pandemic on the bioscience community, Frederick said, “I think that the COVID-19 crisis actually reminds people how important biotechnology and the healthcare industry is for the overall society.” Frederick hopes this leads to more attention for bioscience companies from both investors and from the general public.
About the author: Diana Ferro is a communications volunteer with BioKansas and a biologist. To address complex scientific questions, Dr. Ferro uses a novel, integrative approach that combines bioinformatics with biomolecular and biochemical biology. The active promotion of communication and collaboration between scientists to produce ground-breaking discoveries is an integral part of her work.
About Elixell: Founded by a team of world-class stem cell scientists in collaboration with leading medical research institutions, Elixell Therapeutics Inc (ETI) is a clinical-stage biotechnology company aiming to transform cutting-edge life science and biotechnology innovations into novel cellular medicines and therapies to treat various diseases and disorders. For more information, visit http://www.elixelltherapeutics.com/index.html.