Tulane researcher optimistic about a vaccine that is entering advanced stages of testing

Published: Jul. 15, 2020 at 6:23 PM CDT
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Scientist works on COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.
Scientist works on COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S.(Source: WVUE)

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - As cases of COVID-19 increase in Louisiana and around the country a vaccine worked on by the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the company Moderna shows a lot of promise according to a Tulane University researcher.

Jay Rappaport, PhD., is Director of the Tulane National Primate Research Center.

“It looks like it’s going to be effective based on the neutralizing data and the level of antibodies produced in the Phase 1,” said Rappaport. “The data that was published looks really exciting in that after two doses, you know, you see levels of antibody, levels of neutralizing, antibody that can neutralize the virus.”

Antibodies show up in the bloodstream and signal that someone has had a past infection like COVID-19.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine the investigational vaccine, mRNA-1273 which is designed to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the technical name for the virus that causes COVID-19, was generally well tolerated and ignited neutralizing antibody activity in healthy adults.

“I think it’s really exciting news that this is really moving that fast and also that the immune responses are very robust,” said Rappaport.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases likes what he is seeing in terms of the vaccine’s results so far.

“When will we be able to give it to everybody? That’s assuming that my timetable is correct, and if it is, I think that as we get into the year of 2021 the companies who are involved in making the vaccines promised that we’ll have many doses,” said Fauci.

Phase 2 of the investigation began enrollment in May and plans are underway to launch a Phase 3 efficacy trial in July, according to the NIH.

The third phase would involve 30,000 people of various age groups. Rappaport said having more people take the vaccine is critical.

“You want to show that it’s effective, that it’s effective in a number of age groups, some older individuals are particularly at risk and also you want to show, you also want to show safety with a large number of individuals,” he said.

In developing any vaccine, scientists look for so-called adverse events in study participants.

“Once the individual has been vaccinated encounters the virus, that they actually get protected and that rather than having, you know, enhanced disease,” said Rappaport.

Disease enhancement he says refers to making someone more susceptible to a virus, not less.

“There’s a concern among all the vaccine manufacturers, in fact everybody that’s involved in this business, is if there will be what’s called, antibody dependent disease enhancement,” said Rappaport. “Once the individual has been vaccinated encounters the virus, that they actually get protected and that rather than having , you know, enhanced disease.”

And when it comes to vaccines and COVID-19 Tulane is doing research of its own

. “That’s really designed to look at the level of antibodies that are required to protect and this will inform a lot of other vaccine studies,” said Rappaport. “A number of companies that we’re involved with at one stage or another in developing strategies to test vaccines, at the same time.”

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