September 16, 2021
Early research suggests about 1 in 3 people will continue to have symptoms months after they get past the acute stage of their COVID-19 infections, meaning millions of Americans are still struggling to return to physical health after catching the virus.
"One of the really troubling aspects of this terrible pandemic might be the lingering of this long tail of effect on people who are not able to return, back to their pre-infection state, and we need to do everything we can to get answers to that," NIH Director Francis Collins, MD, said at a news briefing.
"This is being taken with the greatest seriousness and moved forward at a scale that has not really been attempted before for something like this," he said.
The endeavor will combine several studies that are already underway at long-haul COVID-19 clinics around the U.S., along with recruiting new participants, to create a group of around 30,000 people called RECOVER, for the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery initiative.
Experts involved in the project pledged that it would include a racially diverse group of adults, children, and pregnant women. People will be enrolled in the study over the next 12 months.
Collins said that normally, a study of this scale would take 3 or 4 years to organize, but given the urgency of the situation, the pace of the project had been greatly sped up.
The NIH plans to award $470 million to 30 research teams across the U.S. The project will be based out of New York University's Langone Medical Center, which was one of the first centers to study and treat long COVID patients.
Gary Gibbons, MD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, compared RECOVER to the famed Framingham Heart Study, which helped characterize the risk factors for heart disease.
He said community-based groups, like the one RECOVER aims to create, are "very good at picking up the incidence of a disease and its risk factors in, characterizing it in a deep way."
Importantly, the studies will be governed by a master protocol so that things are measured the same way across studies and data is gathered according to common standards.
"Our goal is to launch a harmonized study of truly national scale," said Amy Patterson, MD, deputy director for clinical research and strategic initiatives at the institute. "We want all RECOVER investigators to use similar exams and tests and at the end of the day to speak the same language in reporting these results," she said.
Gibbons said the studies would analyze 40 million electronic health records. He also said the studies would feature data-gathering in real time through mobile devices and personal monitors so that symptoms can be monitored and recorded continuously. This wealth of electronic data is expected to reduce the burden of participation for people who sign up.
Stuart Katz, MD, who will be principal investigator for RECOVER's Clinical Science Core at New York University, said the study would seek to answer some of the most basic outstanding questions about long-haul COVID-19, including how often it happens, whether there are different types, and what factors may put a person at risk. The study also aims to identify effective treatments.
He said his institution was finalizing plans to hand out the first round of funding.
Anyone who wants to learn more about the study and be notified about sign-ups in their area can register at the website RECOVERCOVID.org.