Two St. Louis universities are joining a national effort to test multiple vaccines against the new coronavirus, with plans to recruit 3,000 participants from across the region.
The Washington University School of Medicine and the St. Louis University Center for Vaccine Development are joining clinical trials organized by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in response to the global pandemic. Partners across the country will conduct trials for COVID-19 vaccines and are expected to enroll tens of thousands of Americans.
“We are excited that the St. Louis community will have this opportunity to participate in historic clinical trials aimed at helping to identify the most effective vaccines for preventing COVID-19,” Dr. Rachel Presti, the medical director of the infectious diseases clinical research unit at Washington University, said in a statement.
The two universities are looking to enroll adults of various ages. They are specifically looking for older participants, who tend to be the hardest hit by the infection. They also want individuals at high risk, such as food service or hospital workers. The trials will not infect participants with the novel coronavirus on purpose.
“We are deeply grateful for the support of the St. Louis community as we launch these trials, which represent our best hope to fight back against the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Sharon Frey, clinical director of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development and a lead investigator in the trial here, said in a statement.
Frey and Presti declined to say which vaccine they would test at their sites.
But according to the government clinical trials registry Clinicaltrials.gov, St. Louis University will be a testing site for a vaccine developed by Moderna, a biotechnology company headquartered in Massachusetts. Moderna was the first U.S.-based company to enter clinical trials for its coronavirus vaccine, in March. Its testing so far has shown promise to produce an immune reaction in healthy volunteers, and the company has said it plans to launch nationwide trials at 87 sites, including St. Louis, as soon as July 27.
The Washington University trial was not listed on the registry.
More than 160 vaccines against the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, are in various stages of development across the globe, according to the World Health Organization; 24 of those vaccines are being tested in human volunteers. In addition to the Moderna vaccine, another that showed promising results in early clinical testing is being co-developed by three companies — drug maker Pfizer, German biotechnology company BioNTech, and Chinese pharmaceutical company Fosun Pharma. That vaccine is being manufactured in St. Louis.
In addition to vaccine testing, other treatments are being evaluated for their efficacy to cure or prevent the coronavirus infection. Gilead Science’s drug remdesivir works by stopping the virus from multiplying in the patient’s body, and is authorized for emergency use in the U.S. And, in April, Washington U. researchers launched a large-scale testing of the controversial anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, for front-line health care workers. The trial is now suspended.
WashU and SLU researchers look forward to collaborating on the new vaccine trials.
”We want to work together to be as efficient as possible, and to enroll hundreds of people. We don’t want to be competing with each other — it is going to slow things down,” said Frey. “It’s an opportunity to show what we can do if we work together, how it can help us find a way out of the pandemic.”
“We want to hear from you,” added Presti. “It’s an opportunity for us to band together and to be a part of the solution to a global pandemic.”
For more information about vaccine trials at Washington University School of Medicine, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 314-454-0058.
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