A group of top researchers, clinicians and patients stepped up efforts to combat Long Covid on Thursday, launching a new billionaire-backed initiative to search for drivers of the poorly understood condition and ultimately find treatments to help the millions of people around the world living with the disease.
The Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) hopes to accelerate efforts to understand and treat Long Covid, a sometimes disabling condition that lingers for months or years after infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
The group’s first goal—supported by $15 million dollars in funding from Balvi, a scientific investment fund led by crypto billionaire and Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin—will be to investigate the causes Long Covid, with a particular focus on whether the virus stubbornly persists in the body after initial infection.
Dr. Amy Proal, a microbiologist at the PolyBio Research Foundation and LCRI’s chief scientific officer, told Forbes the research is not just geared towards identifying the presence of the virus in the body but is also aimed at understanding the downstream impact it has on things like blood clotting and the immune system.
Proal said another key aim of LCRI’s research program is to identify measurable features of Long Covid that could form the backbone of clinical trials and help develop much-needed treatments for the condition.
Henry Scott-Green, one of LCRI’s co-founders and a Long Covid patient, told Forbes the group was founded with a “laser focus” on solving the problem of Long Covid and said its structure and funding is designed to cut bureaucracy and leapfrog slower government-funded research.
LCRI has already secured a commitment for further funding from the Chan Soon-Shiong Family Foundation, led by biotech billionaire Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong (the final amount has yet to be settled), and Scott-Green said the group is aiming to raise $100 million in order to help patients as soon as possible.
Though more than a hundred million people around the world are expected to be suffering from Long Covid, the disease is still poorly understood. Its underlying causes are unknown. Proal said growing evidence lends strong support to the viral reservoir theory pursued by LCRI, but some researchers suspect blood clots or problems with the immune system could be to blame. It’s possible these issues could be interlinked. There are no proven treatments for the disease and its exact prevalence in Covid survivors is unknown, though research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests it could be as high as one in five. As well as leaving millions of people sick, the economic impact of Long Covid is enormous. The condition is keeping as many as 4 million people out of work and affects more than 16 million working age Americans, according to a report from the Brookings Institution. The annual cost of lost wages alone could be as high as $230 billion, Brookings estimates. “Many people aren’t really aware of the enormity of the problem of Long Covid,” Scott-Green said.
1 in 13. That’s how many U.S. adults have Long Covid symptoms lasting three or more months after contracting the virus, according to data collected in June by the U.S. Census Bureau. The figure—around 20 million adults—does not include children and is likely an underestimate.
What To Watch For
Falling dominoes. Viral persistence is believed to be behind a number of other conditions including Myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, and multiple sclerosis (MS). Proal, whose research focuses on infection-associated chronic illnesses, told Forbes that when the pandemic started, Long Covid appeared to fit the bill. Though dedicated to working on Long Covid, Scott-Green said he hopes its model will one day be translated over to other chronic illnesses linked to infections. Hopefully Long Covid will be “the first domino in a series of breakthroughs,” he said.
The Pandemic After the Pandemic (The Atlantic)
Clues to Long Covid (Science)