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The Wistar Institute on Oct. 11. Credit: Sophia Leung

The Wistar Institute recently received a $4 million grant to study the effects of COVID-19 on at-risk populations, as well as new COVID-19 treatments for future use. 

The grant, given by the state of Pennsylvania, was announced at a press conference on Tuesday. The Wistar Institute is an independent biomedical research institute that focuses mainly on immunology, virology and vaccines, and cancer research. Wistar has contributed to many historic scientific discoveries and frequently collaborates with Penn on research and educational efforts.

The study will be led by Wistar’s Vice President of Scientific Operations Luis Montaner and will work in collaboration with Penn, Philadelphia FIGHT, Prevention Point, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. 

“The Wistar Institute and its scientists are enormously grateful to our state lawmakers for their essential role in this bipartisan initiative,” Wistar President and CEO Dario Altieri said in a press release

Part of the research will focus on at-risk groups, which include older populations, people with HIV, and those with drug addiction, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. More research will help the state better understand levels of immunity for current and future public health emergencies. 

“There is reason to believe that immunity may wane more quickly among drug users and those with HIV, but lifestyle differences could also expose these groups to the coronavirus more frequently and thus boost immunity,” Montaner told the Inquirer.

The grant will also aid in Wistar’s continuing efforts to create “second-generation” treatments and longer lasting vaccines against COVID-19, the Inquirer reported. Wistar worked to develop a COVID-19 vaccine in January 2020 and the vaccine became the second vaccine to enter a phase one clinical trial in the United States.

Montaner said parts of the project likely will be completed by June 30, 2022.

“This research will be a valuable resource to inform policy and programs designed to assist and uplift vulnerable Pennsylvanians moving forward, and I look forward to the collaboration that will come," Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead said in a press release.