Oklahoma researchers racing to develop vaccine for COVID-19

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OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – Researchers at OU Medical Center are already hard at work, trying to come up with a vaccine for COVID-19.

During a digital press conference Thursday afternoon, Dr. William Hildebrand, OU Medicine Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, answered the following questions:

WITH YOUR 27 YEARS OF RESEARCH EXPERIENCE AT OU MEDICINE, WHAT KIND OF SUCCESS HAS YOUR TEAM SEEN WHEN DEVELOPING VACCINES? 

“We made a vaccine that works for West Nile Virus, in collaboration with a number of investigators with NIH and throughout the United States, we designed and tested a vaccine that protects animals from a lethal challenge with West Nile Virus. So, once we had done that, we did round two, which was we collaborated with researchers and we successfully developed vaccines for melanoma. So, what we showed is, if we can find vaccine targets, people can take those vaccine targets and make a protective vaccine for West Nile Virus or make a protective vaccine for melanoma. So, that was more or less our test runs to show that our technology works and can be integrated into vaccine pipelines.” 

WHAT IS THE PROCESS AND SPEED FOR DEVELOPING A VACCINE AND HOW SOON COULD IT BE PICKED UP BY A LARGE PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY?

“We’ve been doing this for quite a few years here in Oklahoma, testing different viruses, influenza, HIV, different viruses, and West Nile Virus, as I mentioned earlier, so we’ve been testing these viruses and it looks like the coronavirus is going to fit into the system pretty well. So, in 8-12 weeks, let’s say 10 weeks, we should be able to tell you what are the promising targets that you can use in a vaccine in order to get the immune system to go and destroy the virus.”

“Then we’ll set another 8-12 weeks to determine which of the ones we’ve discovered that are possible vaccine targets are people that successfully fight the virus responding to. So, if you get infected by COVID-19, and you successfully fight the virus, which of the targets that we’ve discovered in our university lab over here, did you use to successfully fight the virus, when you eliminated it. Once we know that, we are already working to line up the vaccine partners to take that, so probably 8-10 weeks too find the targets, 8-10 weeks to do what we call ‘early validation’ of the targets, and then it plugs into large pharma’s vaccine pipelines.” 

WHEN COULD THE FINISHED VACCINE SHOW UP IN DOCTORS’ OFFICES?

“The traditional path to the clinic is $500 million and two or three years. That’s all changing real time in the COVID-19 crisis, so I would say that when we started this project two weeks ago, we thought the path to the clinic was a year, it may have shortened after that because there are very extreme measures being taken to ensure public health in this crisis. And as the magnitude of the crisis emerges, and the number of people who become infected are continuing to be reassessed, they’re taking new measures to expedite the movement of treatments for this. So, I would say a year from start to finish right now, but this is a very fluid landscape, and I’m not sure if it will be longer or shorter than a year in another month, I’m not sure what the timeline would be.”

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