By KATHRYN EASTBURN, Galveston County Daily News
The Sealy & Smith Foundation of Galveston on Wednesday awarded a $3.35 million gift to the University of Texas Medical Branch earmarked for research aimed at fighting the virus that causes COVID-19.
“UTMB scientists were instrumental in leading the fight against Ebola and Zika,” said John Kelso, chairman of The Sealy & Smith Foundation Board of Trustees. “We’re proud to provide the funding so that these world-renowned UTMB researchers have enough firepower against COVID-19.”
The gift will support a collaboration of the university’s virus scientists to work together concurrently on a broad range of studies and move quickly to advance promising vaccines and therapies, university spokesman Raul Reyes said.
Dr. James LeDuc, director of the Galveston National Laboratory on the medical branch campus, was overwhelmed by the generosity of the gift, he said.
“We are so fortunate,” he said. “I had a long career in the government and private philanthropy was never part of our vocabulary. It blows me away how generous these folks are.”
Most everyone involved in the research enterprise at the medical branch is looking for ways to contribute to the fight against COVID-19, LeDuc said. Collaborations have popped up among doctors studying lung injuries caused by vaping, for example, and others looking at the pulmonary impact of COVID-19 in many patients.
Developing drugs, specifically antiviral drugs to treat the disease, will be a particular focus, and the money will enable the lab to purchase equipment needed to speed up that process, he said.
Dr. Ben Raimer, the medical branch’s interim president, praised Sealy & Smith for the gift that he said would accelerate COVID-19 research into potential antiviral and antibody therapies that can impede the virus.
“If anyone can find a way to defeat this virus, it’s UTMB’s top-notch researchers,” Raimer said. “We’re extremely thankful for the Sealy & Smith Foundation’s generosity.”
The Sealy & Smith Foundation was formed in 1922 to provide health care for the people of Galveston Island and has provided gifts to the University of Texas Medical Branch totaling close to $1 billion, according to the university.