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health

COVID start-up based in GOP donor’s luxury condo could get millions from U.S.

An obscure South Carolina company may be in line for millions of dollars in U.S. government funding to produce a coronavirus treatment after a former Republican senator with a financial stake in the business lobbied senior U.S. government officials, the Associated Press reports.

Plasma Technologies LLC, has received seed money to test a possible COVID-19-fighting blood plasma technology. But as much as $65 million more could be on the way, a windfall for the company that operates out of the founder’s luxury condo, according to internal government records and other documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The story of how a tiny business that exists only on paper has managed to snare so much top-level attention is emblematic of the Trump administration’s frenetic response to the coronavirus pandemic.

And it’s another in a series of contracts awarded despite concerns over their proposals voiced by government scientists. The others include a $21 million study of the heartburn drug Pepcid as a COVID therapy, and more than $500 million to ApiJect Systems America, a startup with an unapproved medicine injection technology and no factory to manufacture the devices. In addition, a government whistleblower claimed that a $1.6 billion vaccine contract to Novavax Inc. was made over objections of government scientific staff.

At the center of these deals is Dr. Robert Kadlec, a senior Trump appointee at the Department of the Health and Human Services, who backed the Pepcid, Novavax and ApiJect projects. Records obtained by the AP also describe Kadlec as a key supporter of Plasma Tech, owned by Eugene Zurlo, a former pharmaceutical industry executive and well connected Republican donor. Three years ago, Zurlo brought Rick Santorum, who spent 12 years as a GOP senator from Pennsylvania, aboard as a part-owner.


Road to a vaccine: Operation Warp Speed

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Kadlec has come under pressure from the White House to act with more urgency and not be bound by lower-level science officials whom Trump has castigated as the “deep state” and accused of politically motivated delays in fielding COVID-19 vaccines and remedies.

The AP reached out to more than a dozen blood plasma industry leaders and medical experts. Few had heard of Zurlo’s company or its technology for turning human plasma into protein-rich antibody therapies, and would not comment.

Zurlo said in an email that the shortage of plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients, which is needed to make these therapies, underlines the need for the technology he’s patented to harvest as many of these proteins as possible.

Rick Santorum steps up sales pitch

In early April, shortly after Congress supplied hundreds of billions of dollars to combat the pandemic, Santorum stepped up his sales pitch for Plasma Technologies and the process the company has described as “disruptive and transformative,” according to the records.

In mid-August, the federal government awarded Plasma Technologies a $750,000 grant to demonstrate that it could deliver on its promises.

HHS would not comment when asked whether Santorum’s public backing of the president helped the company he has

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health

Washington blood donors urged to help amid surge in hospital usage

This year’s blood supplies aren’t quite keeping pace with the needs of local hospitals around the Seattle area, according to Bloodworks Northwest officials.

Bloodworks officials noted requests for blood donations are up 120% of normal as of early October, particularly for type O blood. As need increases, so too does pressure on the current supply for even common surgical procedures, making the need for more donors relatively urgent this month within Pacific Northwest hospitals.

This month, blood donors can learn if they have COVID-19 antibodies that may help patients currently fighting coronavirus because Bloodworks is testing all whole blood donations for COVID-19 antibodies through Oct. 31 in conjunction with pandemic response efforts. A positive test result indicates if the donor’s immune system has produced antibodies to SARS-CoV2 (COVID-19) regardless of whether the person ever showed symptoms.

Bloodworks Northwest is backed by 75 years of Northwest history and 250,000 donors. The local, non-profit remains an independent, volunteer-supported and community-based organization and leader in transfusion medicine.


With patients across hospitals in Washington, Oregon and Alaska, Bloodworks partners closely with local hospitals to deliver a high level of patient care among blood components, complex cross-matching, specialized lab services for organ transplants, care for patients with blood disorders, and collection of cord blood stem cells for cancer treatment.

Many patients with traumatic injuries, undergoing surgeries or organ transplantation, or receiving treatment for cancer and blood disorders fall dependent on Bloodworks’ services, especially among an already trying year given the expanse of the novel coronavirus.

“Hospitals are seeing an increase in traumas, transplants, and emergency situations requiring blood,” said Bloodworks President and CEO, Curt Bailey. “Overall blood usage is up 20% which translates to an additional 600 units of blood needed each week. This is unsustainable unless more community members step up to fill these growing needs of our hospitals and those lives depending on them.”

To fill the need, it typically takes around 1,000 people each day to make appointments and give blood at Bloodworks donor centers and pop-up blood drives happening throughout Western Washington and Oregon, according to Bloodworks.

“As this high usage trend continues, our deficit increases with our most-needed Type O blood types fast approaching critically low levels,” said Vicki Finson, executive vice president of blood services. “Local hospitals are counting on all of us to meet their commitment to provide the best patient care possible.  Whether you’re a first-time donor or longtime donor, please make an appointment now to keep our shelves stocked for patients.”

Notably, donations alongside Bloodworks provide 95% of the lifesaving blood supply to Pacific Northwest hospitals, according to Bloodworks officials.

So whether you have a spare hour to check in and enjoy a post-donation cookie, or are searching for ways to help hospitals amid COVID-19, check out information about who can donate and where, available here.

As of late, they’ve launched pop-up locations across Bellevue, Bellingham, Central Seattle, Everett, Federal Way, Lynnwood, Olympia, North Seattle, Silverdale, Tukwila, Vancouver and Eugene, Oregon.

Appointments and masks are required,

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