Providence to start COVID vaccine trial as cases surge across PNW



PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Researchers at Providence have been approved to begin a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

Providence Cancer Institute researchers received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin a first-in-human clinical trial of a vaccine for the coronavirus that has decimated the world. Providence says the vaccine is unique because it incorporates immunotherapy that has been developed over the last three decades at the Earle A. Chiles Research Institute.

This will be one of 18 clinical COVID vaccine trials in the United State and one of 45 worldwide.

Providence researchers say older adults have been a focal point throughout development. Because older adults are at an increased risk of COVID complications, it is essential that the vaccine developed is effective for those over 50.

“This is not the vaccine that 100 million people are going to get next year,” explained Dr. Bernard Fox, the head of Providence’s Laboratory of Molecular and Tumor Immunology. “This is something we may develop and may be more along the lines of your grandmother and grandfather are going to get. It’s going to be people over 60 who are the ones we are really going to be targeting.”

In the trial’s initial phase, researchers will test the vaccine in 36 people, half of the volunteers being aged between 18 and 50, while the other half of volunteers will be over the age of 50. The trial will be open to those who are in good health with no underlying health concerns of their immune systems.

“We designed our trial with older adults in mind. By drawing on our experience in immunotherapy, our aim is to develop a vaccine that boosts the immune response to COVID-19 in older people,” the trial’s principal investigator Doctor Rom Leidner said.

Those in the study will receive two vaccines about a month apart from each other and will then be monitored for another 60 days with periodic blood tests. Overall, the volunteers will be observed for about 18 months in order for researchers to fully assess any possible side effects.

According to Providence, the vaccine is “designed to mobilize the immune system on two fronts simultaneously – antibodies and T cells – both targeting the “spike” that the virus uses to attach to and infect a person’s healthy cells, causing the COVID-19 disease. When the antibodies bind to the “spike” protein of the virus, and the T cells recognize the “spike,” the immune system launches a two-pronged attack to destroy the virus.”

They say the trial will test whether the vaccine can activate the immune system as intended, in order to generate antibodies and T cells that can attack the virus.

The trial will be conducted at Providence Portland Medical Center in Portland. More information will be available when the study is open for enrollment.

‘Plan for the worst’

Meanwhile, hospitals in Southwest Washington are making plans as COVID-19 cases surge in the region. Dr. Lawrence Neville, the chief medical officer for PeaceHealth Columbia Network, said Clark County cases have been steadily increasing in recent weeks.

“Number one driver is household exposure,” he said. “Number two exposure making up 20% of the cases is private social gathering.”

Neville said the number of COVID-positive patients coming into the hospital has risen to the same peak number PeaceHealth saw early on in the pandemic. PeaceHealth hopes to see those numbers shrink to match the low point they saw in early July. But if the increase continues, Neville is confident PeaceHealth can care for those who need treatment.

“We have a moral obligation to plan for the worst,” he said. “Physicians are working rapidly to plan if they get sick themselves. Even if the numbers get worse, we are confident we can handle it.”

Neville said PeaceHealth is following treatment plans that have been proven to yield lower mortality rates while vaccine trials are fast-tracked.

“What’s amazing to me is how many trials are going on. I just checked — we have 46 vaccine trials across the world, 11 are in phase three trials.”

He urged those who plan on traveling to visit family to take extra precautions and get the flu shot.

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