WESTWOOD─ On Friday, June 12, University of California Los Angeles announced that two of its scientists have received separate state grants for their potential COVID-19 treatment and vaccine booster. The grants are issued by The California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

The first grant was awarded to Vaithilingaraja Arumugaswami, associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Arumugaswami received $349,999 for his team to conduct pre-clinical research. At the center of it is the drug Berzosertib, which works by blocking the DNA repair pathway in cancer cells without affecting normal, healthy cells. The drug was identified after over 400 test screenings by Arumugaswami and Professor Robert Damoiseaux. The researchers hypothesize that Berzosertib may reduce the spread of the coronavirus infection and prevent its complications if administered soon after diagnosis. If successful, an investigational new drug application will be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration and a clinical trial will be launched.

“COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting underserved communities… Our clinical trial will be designed to bring the therapeutic benefit to a diverse population, especially to those in underserved communities,” said Arumugaswami.

The second grant was awarded to Song Li, chair and chancellor professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. Li received  $149,916 to support his work regarding a virus booster that may be added to the COVID-19 vaccine. The booster would stimulate the formation of T memory stem cells that increase the immune response in elderly and vulnerable populations. The components of the booster are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration, so if successful, it may be utilized quickly.

“Our technology could be used to help older people and other vulnerable people build stronger immunity to anything we are vaccinating against — be it the flu, a new virus, or cancer,” said Li.

The UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center has received 4 of the 11 total CIRM awards for COVID-19 research.