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The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation awarded $2.76 million for 11 studies to advance our understanding of the underlying factors that impact COVID-19 outcomes in people with CF. UNC Marsico Lung Institute researchers Kenichi Okuda, MD, PhD, and Raymond Pickles, PhD, received funding for two studies.

A recent study of 181 people with CF who were diagnosed with COVID-19 suggested that outcomes for most people with CF are less severe than originally anticipated, although some cases can cause serious illness. Our current understanding of why there are differences in severity of COVID-19 illness among people with CF is limited.

To explore the underlying factors that impact COVID-19 outcomes in people with CF, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation awarded $2.76 million for 11 studies, with the ultimate goal of gaining research insights to improve future treatments.

The Foundation is funding novel studies that will investigate whether there are underlying biological differences in the way people with CF may be infected by or respond to SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. This new research adds to the extensive portfolio of other viral, bacterial, and fungal research funded through the Foundation’s Infection Research Initiative. The 11 studies, most of which will be for two years, fall within the following areas of research:

  • The impact of CFTR mutations, chronic inflammation, and mucus on the coronavirus infection (Alessandra Bragonzi, PhD, San Raffaele Foundation, Milano, Italy; research associate Kenichi Okuda, MD, PhD, and Raymond Pickles, PhD, at the UNC Marsico Lung Institute; and Scott Phillips, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham.) Pickles is also an associate professor in the UNC Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
  • Whether cells from people with CF are more or less likely to become infected and transmit the virus than cells from people without CF, and how CFTR modulators may alter these responses (John Hanrahan, PhD, and Gergely Lukacs, MD, PhD, McGill University, Quebec, Canada; Kun Li, PhD, University of Iowa; Eszter Vladar, PhD, University of Colorado Denver; and Ruobing Wang, MD, Boston Children’s Hospital)
  • Whether the coronavirus can lead to increased bacterial infections in people with CF; and antiviral therapies for COVID-19 are sufficient to mitigate disease in people with CF (Kevin Harrod, PhD, University of Alabama at Birmingham)
  • Whether cells from people with CF have altered inflammatory response to the coronavirus (Antonio Recchiuti, Universita’ degli Studi Gabriele d’Annunzio di Chieti-Pescara, Chieti, Italy)

The CF Foundation’s Commitment to Infection Research

People with CF who have chronic infections are at greater risk for worsening lung disease, and infection remains a top concern of both patients and clinicians. Many individuals also suffer severe side effects from long-term antibiotic use, such as hearing loss, and are at increased risk of developing antibiotic-resistant infections.

In 2018, the CF Foundation dedicated at least $100 million to its Infection Research Initiative as part of a sweeping effort to advance research into bacterial, viral, and fungal infections. The Infection Research Initiative is a comprehensive approach to improve outcomes associated with infections through enhanced detection, diagnosis, prevention, and treatment. Currently, the CF Foundation is funding more than 10 industry programs to develop treatments for CF-related infections.

Continuing to Track COVID-19 Infections

The CF Foundation is monitoring COVID-19 cases in the U.S. through the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Patient Registry, which includes more than 30,000 people with CF — nearly the entire population of people with CF in the U.S. – and gathers data from a network of 133 care centers across the country. As of November 3, 2020, the CF Foundation Registry reported a total 344 confirmed COVID-19 positive cases in the U.S. Of the positive cases in the U.S., three deaths have been reported.

About the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation is the world’s leader in the search for a cure for cystic fibrosis. The Foundation funds more CF research than any other organization, and nearly every CF drug available today was made possible because of Foundation support. Based in Bethesda, Md., the Foundation also supports and accredits a national care center network that has been recognized by the National Institutes of Health as a model of care for a chronic disease. The CF Foundation is a donor-supported nonprofit organization. For more information, visit

UNC Contact: Mark Derewicz