UCSD announced $1 million gift to increase COVID-19 testing capacity

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – UC San Diego announced Monday a $1 million gift from the John and Mary Tu Foundation, designated to help increase the number of people tested for COVID-19, as well as develop new ways to track and treat the virus.

The award supports the clinical research activities of UCSD translational research virologist Dr. Davey Smith, who is “advancing new diagnostics, therapies and ways to monitor the spread of the virus,” according to a university statement.

“What we are trying to do is save lives,” John Tu said of the gift to create the John and Mary Tu Foundation COVID-19 Response Fund. “It’s very simple: with this research, Dr. Smith is working on behalf of everybody, to save us, to save the world.”

At the onset of the pandemic, Smith and his team began to investigate methods that would increase the efficiency of testing as well as understand the disease process — how the virus mutates and spreads within a population. Through sequencing the virus, he is able to track the disease as it spreads into vulnerable populations, which informs the best means for contact tracing.

Smith is also leading clinical trials to test new drugs for treatment of COVID-19 for those who have moderately severe cases.

“At this critical time during the COVID-19 pandemic, the generosity of the John and Mary Tu Foundation has an immediate positive impact on our efforts,” said UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “Their support allows experts like Davey Smith to quickly mobilize to mitigate the spread of the virus and develop treatments for those affected.”

Smith said the gift was important, as he and his team had limited resources, which would have frozen their progress.

“The foundation saw that time was of the essence in this pandemic and that science was going to get us out of it,” he said. “Now we are conducting a number of clinical trials, including those for vaccines, and have found new drugs that will likely move to treatments soon.”

As chief of UC San Diego’s Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health and co-director of the San Diego Center for AIDS Research, Smith and his team are positioned to rapidly respond to the spread of pandemics like COVID-19.

“It’s not a matter of if a pandemic can happen, but when,” Smith said. “We need to bolster science, technology and capabilities to prepare for pandemics.”

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