COVID-19 Partnerships: ArgoPond Teams with Katharine Bar, University of Pennsylvania

The Leader and Her Research Focus Prior to the Pandemic

Dr. Katharine Bar is an infectious disease physician with clinical and basic science expertise in HIV at the University of Pennsylvania. A graduate of the University of Iowa College of Medicine, she completed her internal medicine residency at Virginia Commonwealth Univers`ity, where she also served as chief resident. Katharine completed her infectious disease training at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and joined the faculty at Penn in 2012 as an up-and-coming expert in translational HIV research.

Why She Pivoted to a COVID-19 Trial

In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic was something Dr. Bar had been training for her entire professional career. As a member, and often a leader, of large multicenter HIV trials, she had deep familiarity with the details of clinical studies of life-threatening viral infections. Furthermore, her expertise with neutralizing antibodies made her an obvious choice for a trial using convalescent plasma.

The Trials: A Study of Convalescent Plasma in Mechanically Ventilated COVID-19 Patients; a Randomized Trial in Severely Ill Patients

The studies Katharine and her team designed acknowledged two important facts. First, much was still unknown about the benefit of convalescent plasma, and it wasn’t guaranteed that the material would be safe or helpful when used in this setting. Second, the most severely affected patients were truly life-threatened, and without another proven therapy available, plasma might represent a last best hope for recovery.

The Biggest Surprises

Like other researchers we’ve worked with, Dr. Bar says the biggest surprise was how challenging it was to carry out the trials when the ground was shifting so quickly. New information was arriving daily about the disease and how it might be best treated, so the ‘standard of care’ against which her therapies were being compared was constantly improving. The health system was updating recommendations and policies very frequently throughout the spring and summer, meaning the daily routines of the trials had to be updated just as frequently. Lastly, as additional new studies were being announced almost weekly, the research teams at Penn established standing daily meetings to determine which clinical trial best suited individual patients that wished to participate in the important work of finding new treatments.

Related Publications from the Researcher

Effect of HIV Antibody VRC01 on Viral Rebound after Treatment Interruption

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