Research Hero: Richard Novak, MD

Covid-19 is not the first pandemic go-around for Richard Novak, MD. For more than 30 years, he has worked closely with HIV-positive patients. Today, as head of infectious diseases at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he has been running several research studies trying to find a drug to treat Covid-19.

Novak was the principal investigator on a phase 3 trial of remdesivir, a medication found to be effective against Covid-19. He is now involved in a second phase 3 trial to see if remdesivir works better in combination with a second drug, baricitinib. And he has started the first Covid-19 vaccine trial in Illinois.

In college, Novak spent time volunteering in medical settings. He also traveled to Latin America, where he became interested in infectious diseases. He credits his mother for steering him into medicine. “[My parents] were Holocaust survivors, the sole survivors in their families. My mother was a constant influence on me to go into medicine,” he says. “And I followed her advice.”

Novak sees many parallels between HIV and Covid-19. “Early in the AIDS pandemic, we had no treatments. We were desperate to keep our patients alive, trying all kinds of treatments and therapies,” he says. In addition, “There was a terrible stigma against people with HIV/AIDS, and now there is a stigma against Covid patients.”

He’s continuing his quest for a Covid-19 treatment. “Other prevention strategies, more drugs, and treatment options that might be used as prevention will eventually bring this under control,” he says. “We will get closer to normal life.”