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$1.7M allocated for COVID-19 research in Puerto Rico 

The Puerto Rico Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC, in Spanish) has selected seven proposals to research the development of treatments or preventive strategies for infections with SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2), the virus responsible for COVID-19, with a total of $1.7 million allocated through the Grants Program for R&D of COVID-19 Treatments.

Funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) of 2021, the State and Local Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund aims to assist state governments in addressing public health emergencies while also promoting economic development. 

The commonwealth government sees an opportunity to accelerate the development of new COVID-19 medicines and treatments to stimulate the life sciences sector and foster drug and product discovery. 

“DDEC has made significant investments in developing biotechnology research, which is a crucial sector in Puerto Rico,” said the department’s secretary, Manuel Cidre. “This program aims to further strengthen our capacity for innovative projects that may lead to the commercialization of products or treatments from Puerto Rico, benefiting both the health and the economy of the island.”

Public and private universities, nonprofit organizations and for-profit corporations in Puerto Rico were invited to submit proposals. Research topics include identifying novel, safe and effective treatments or preventive strategies for SARS-CoV-2 infection and improving understanding of the long-term consequences of PASC (post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection), also known as long COVID, which can occur in people who have had COVID-19, even if they had a mild illness.

After evaluating 13 proposals, the grant recipients selected were: José Lasadle-Dominicci, Ph.D., and Manuel Delgado-Vélez from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) Río Piedras Campus; Pablo Vivas-Mejía, Ph.D., from the UPR Medical Sciences Campus; Ana Espino, Ph.D., from the UPR Medical Sciences Campus; Camilo Mora, Ph.D., from the UPR Mayagüez Campus; Edu Suárez-Martínez, Ph.D., from the UPR Ponce Campus; Miguel Castro, Ph.D., from the UPR Mayagüez Campus; and Marcos Ramos-Benítez, Ph.D., from the Ponce Health Sciences University.

“The selection process was rigorous, with the assistance of the Puerto Rico Science, Technology and Research Trust; all proposals were evaluated based on their scientific merits, team capacity and commercialization potential,” said Humberto Mercader, DDEC assistant secretary for strategic affairs and project lead. “All projects have significant potential and are led by teams of highly skilled scientists. This is the kind of effort we aim to continue to strengthen, so that we see more scientific projects with commercialization opportunities and impact on economic development.”

The funds from the program will not only be used to identify novel treatments and preventive strategies for SARS-CoV-2 infection and its consequences but also to boost economic activity in the life sciences sector on the island. This will be achieved by promoting new drug and product research and development initiatives. The first disbursement of funds is expected in September, with the rest depending on the institutions’ results.

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