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Improving access to COVID treatment

AXCES Research Group and AXCES Health founder Wenoah Veikley works a specimen. The joint companies that recently opened in Santa Fe will conduct testing on a number of different infectious diseases, including COVID-19, while also offering local residents free access to state-of-the-art care through its testing and trials research. (Courtesy of AXCES Research Group and AXCES Health)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

It is no secret that Santa Fe is the “City Different” and one more reason was just added to that list in a good way.

A new clinical trial and medical research site has opened here, giving local residents access to cutting-edge health care normally available only to people living in much larger cities.

AXCES Research & AXCES Health, founded by Santa Fe nurse and clinical researcher Wenoah Viekley, along with an experienced group of some of New Mexico’s top, primarily female, clinical research doctors and infectious disease specialists, is not only researching the COVID-19 virus, but also beginning research into a number of other diseases, such as HIV, liver disease, hepatitis and fatty liver disease.

It will fill a void left by the recent closure of another research institute.

“I was concerned about maintaining access to this high-level treatment being available in northern New Mexico, in particular,” Viekley said. “We want to ensure that New Mexicans have access to the highest quality care and that we have the opportunity to do clinical trials … which are the best opportunity to do that especially when it came to COVID.”

The new medical facility is actively studying monoclonal antibodies associated with COVID-19, as well as various treatment options, such as Remdesivir, which President Donald Trump used after he contracted the virus.

“The monoclonal antibodies is the key piece everybody is trying to get their hands on,” Viekley said. “With a vaccine, it stimulates the body’s ability to produce antibodies. With monoclonal, you are infusing the antibodies into the body and they can get to work right away.”

Viekley and her team began preparations for the work several months ago, seeking a response from drug manufacturers.

“We were hoping to have a study or two in the first few months we were open, but we’ve actually got nine that we decided to start with,” she said. “We were actually a bit overwhelmed by the amount of interest the scientific community has expressed in us. We’re grateful for our reputation in the scientific community.”

The COVID work is particularly important now as the hospitals continue to be inundated with patients, she said. “Outpatient clinical trials offer the opportunity to make treatments available to keep people out of the hospitals,” Viekley said.

What’s more, because the trials are supported by the manufacturers of the treatment, patients not only do not have to pay for their treatment, but also are compensated for their time and mileage.

“We are supported by companies who are interested in licensing their drugs,” Viekley said. “All studies are FDA and Institutional Review Board approved. We are very careful with the ethics, the scientific merit, how the study is designed, and whether it is safe and appropriate. We are compensated for our time and effort, enrolling subjects and making treatment available in the community.”

One of the aspects of the COVID-19 work that has Viekley particularly excited is work toward an oral antibody.

“That’s particularly attractive in New Mexico with its many rural communities,” she said. “Not having to have a transfusion is a very attractive option for treatment.”

AXCES is actively seeking COVID-positive patients for their studies and can pre-screen people over the phone.

“The primary eligibility is having a positive COVID test result within the past week,” Viekley said. “A symptom of COVID in the past week, being 18-plus with an underlying medical condition, such as diabetes, asthma, liver or kidney issues, or over 55 without any of preexisting issues. If a patient is sick enough to need oxygen or hospitalization, they’re not going to be eligible because the point is to keep them out of the hospital.”

AXCES also can provide COVID-19 tests on weekends and off hours, but the patient must pay for those, she said.

With the initial steps already showing such promise, Viekely said the group wants to quickly move into other parts of the state, with branches in Albuquerque and then Las Cruces.”Colleagues in large, urban centers have a volume of research patients, but Santa Fe is a small community. What that has done is encouraged us to be really, really good at what we do,” she said. “… We’re a boutique research site. But the quality and caliber of our work is exceptional. … We specialize in several different types of scientific work. We have small numbers of patients, but more intense studies that are added on to bigger studies.”

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