The first clinical trials for a vaccine targeting the new coronavirus will take place at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle.
The vaccine for the virus known as SARS-CoV-2, and the subsequent disease called COVID-19, was developed by Massachusetts-based biotechnology company Moderna, which is one of many companies working to create a vaccine.
It isn’t yet known when the trials will begin, but once they do it could take 13 months and will include 45 healthy people between the ages of 19 and 55, said Linnae Riesen, a spokesperson for Kaiser Permanente Washington. If the initial trial is successful, researchers would move on to a second phase called an efficacy trial, which would involve thousands of people. Results wouldn’t be known for many months.
While a vaccine probably won’t be ready for the general public for more than a year, it’s still important to forge ahead because the virus could become seasonal like the flu, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, during a White House news conference Wednesday.
“If that is the case, we hope to have a vaccine,” he said.
Kaiser’s Seattle research institute was chosen as a trial site because it is one of nine National Institutes of Health (NIH) designated Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU). The Kaiser institute has been a VTEU since 2007.
Other local efforts to develop a vaccine are also ongoing: HDT Bio is working on a vaccine with PAI Life Sciences, InBios International and the University of Washington School of Medicine. HDT and its partners started working on a vaccine once the virus’ genome sequence was shared by Chinese scientists last month. Animal trials have taken place and the vaccine could be ready for human clinical trials in the next couple of months, said Steven Reed, HDT’s CEO.
The competition to get a vaccine to market is good because the world, like with the flu vaccine, wouldn’t want to be dependent on one vaccine manufacturer, Reed said.
The new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in the central China province of Hubei. Since people in Wuhan began falling ill from COVID-19 in December, more than 81,000 people globally have been sickened and more than 2,700 people have died.
Most of the sick and dead have been in China but the virus is spreading around the world fast enough that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Americans should prepare themselves for SARS-CoV-2 to begin circulating in the United States.
Fifteen people have tested positive for COVID-19 in the U.S. An additional 45 people who have been flown back from other countries to the U.S. by the State Department have also tested positive for the virus.
A 35-year-old Snohomish County man was the first person in the U.S. with COVID-19. He stayed for a couple of weeks in a temporary isolation unit at Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, where he was treated with an experimental antiviral called remdesivir. He was given the drug once he began showing signs of pneumonia. A day after the treatment the patient’s fever subsided and he began feeling better.
The drug, developed by Gilead, had been tested in Ebola patients but wasn’t effective. It did prove to be safe, though. Researchers previously had some success with remdesivir treating monkeys infected with MERS-CoV, which is another coronavirus. Human clinical trials for remdesivir began in China this month, and on Tuesday NIH officials announced U.S. trials.