A Mercer University alumnus is contributing to the search for a treatment for severe cases of COVID-19.
Double Bear Felipe Echeverri is managing director for Biorep Technologies, a medical device design and manufacturing firm. The company has developed equipment for a clinical trial, led by Dr. Camillo Ricordi, investigating a treatment for serious cases of the novel coronavirus.
The trial explores whether stem cells from umbilical cords could block the life-threatening lung inflammation that accompanies acute cases of COVID-19, according to a news release from The Cure Alliance, a nonprofit group of global scientists, researchers, medical doctors and innovators that is funding the clinical trial.
“So far, we’ve made two instruments and four isolation chambers for Dr. Ricordi,” Echeverri said. “Biorep is not involved in the clinical trial directly, but we’re supporting the scientists with any of the equipment they might need.”
Among the equipment is the Stem Cell Isolator, which isolates stem cells from umbilical cords, placentas or fat tissue. Biorep engineers designed the instrument with Dr. Ricordi, and it will be used in the second wave of trials after safety and early efficacy have been established, he said.
“There is no time to waste,” Dr. Ricordi said in The Cure Alliance release. “Patients who die from COVID-19 have a median time of just 10 days between first symptoms and death.
“In severe cases, oxygen levels in the bloodstream drop, and the inability to breathe pushes patients towards their end very quickly; any intervention that might prevent that trajectory would be highly desirable.”
Dr. Ricordi is director of the Diabetes Research Institute and Cell Transplant Program at the University of Miami.
The Stem Cell Isolator originally was developed for isolating stem cells from fat tissue to then convert them into insulin-producing cells as a potential cell therapy treatment for Type 1 diabetes, Echeverri said. Biorep has been instrumental in working toward a cure for diabetes.
The company also is working on a sterile automatic bag filling station that will be part of the COVID-19 clinical trial. The trial is based at the University of Miami Health System and Jackson Health System in Miami.
Echeverri said Biorep, based in Miami Lakes, Florida, has remained open during the pandemic and has been able to retain all its employees.
“It’s been very rewarding to be able to contribute towards the COVID-19 fight,” he said.
As managing director for Biorep Technologies, Echeverri handles business operations, planning, decision-making, financial review, strategic development, customer relationships and human resources.
An engineer at heart — Echeverri earned both his bachelor’s and master’s in biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering, respectively, from Mercer’s School of Engineering in 2003 — he stays closely involved with all product design activities. Echeverri also holds an Executive Master of Business Administration from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Echeverri said he’ll never forget the words of then-Mercer Engineering Dean Dr. M. Dayne Aldridge upon asking him to be the speaker for the School’s Order of the Engineer ceremony: “Once you graduate from Mercer, what you’ll really have is a license to learn.”
“I feel Mercer gave me the right toolset to go out and learn effectively,” Echeverri said.
He credits Dr. Edward O’Brien, professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, with helping him “stay curious” and pushing him to be a better engineer.
“One of the most important skills I learned was how to solve problems,” he said.
Main Photo: Mercer University alumnus Felipe Echeverri, right, is managing director for Biorep Technologies. All photos are courtesy Felipe Echeverri.