As U.S. scientists ramp up a national effort to evaluate COVID-19 vaccine candidates at clinical trial sites across the country, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development have been tapped to join the historic effort to find a COVID-19 vaccine that can prevent the illness.
Researchers at the two universities expect to enroll about 3,000 participants in several COVID-19 vaccine trials, with each school participating in different trials.
Researchers say it will be critically important to enroll participants who are likely to be exposed to COVID-19 or those at risk for severe disease from COVID-19, including participants over age 65.
COVID-19 Prevention Network
Washington University and Saint Louis University are participating in the trials as a part of the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN), a newly organized network formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to develop and test vaccines and treatments in the fight against COVID-19.
The COVID-19 Prevention Network will participate in large-scale phase 3 vaccine trials that will enroll thousands of participants from across the U.S. or in some cases around the world to determine whether the vaccines can prevent COVID-19 disease.
The COVID-19 Prevention Network brings together several existing NIH networks, including:
- The Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium (IDCRC), which includes the Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units (VTEUs) and IDCRC Leadership Group.
- The HIV Vaccine Trials Network.
- The HIV Prevention Trials Network.
- The AIDS Clinical Trials Group.
Each of the networks has expertise in conducting clinical trials and is quickly pivoting to evaluate potential COVID-19 vaccines.
Leaders in the field
Locally, Washington University and Saint Louis University are well positioned to conduct the COVID-19 vaccine trials, due to extensive expertise in infectious disease research.
The Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development is home to one of 10 Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units in the United States. As such, SLU conducts phases 1 through 4 vaccine and treatment trials, including clinical studies in collaboration with industry partners.
“The Center for Vaccine Development at Saint Louis University has 30 years of experience testing novel vaccines and completing urgent pandemic vaccine trials,” said Daniel Hoft, MD, PhD, the center’s director and principal investigator for the VTEU. “We recognize that particularly in these unprecedented times, collaboration is critically important. We look forward to using the collective strengths at SLU and Washington University to get COVID-19 vaccines ready for the U.S. public and world.”
Washington University School of Medicine has more than 30 years’ experience leading clinical trials evaluating new treatments and vaccines for infectious diseases through its Infectious Disease Clinical Research Unit and the AIDS Clinical Trials Group. The latter has been instrumental in conducting trials to control the HIV pandemic, leading to safe and effective medications that treat and prevent HIV infection and AIDS.
“Our long history of working with the HIV community has demonstrated how critically important community support is in conducting successful clinical trials,” said Rachel Presti, MD, PhD, an associate professor of medicine, director of Washington University’s Infectious Disease Clinical Research Unit and principal investigator for the AIDS Clinical Trials Group and the HIV Prevention Trials Network. “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.”
Partnering with the community
“St. Louisans will be key to the success of the vaccine trials,” said Sharon Frey, MD, clinical director of SLU’s Center for Vaccine Development and principal investigator of the trial at SLU. “A powerful example of the role the St. Louis community plays in advancing public health was seen in the community’s response to the 2009 pandemic influenza vaccine trial. 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.”
“This is where we begin to really fight back against the scourge of COVID-19,” said Washington University lead research coordinator Michael Klebert, instructor of medicine. “The collaboration of two world-class medical schools with the support of volunteers from the St. Louis community in this effort will be a powerful combination. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Saint Louis University and Washington University will share additional information about the trials as it becomes available.
For more information about vaccine trials at Washington University School of Medicine, please email firstname.lastname@example.org; call 314-454-0058 or visit the Division of Infectious Diseases clinical trials site.
The Washington University HIV Clinical Trials Unit is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant numbers 5UM1AI069439-15 and 3UM1AI069439-15S1.
The Saint Louis University project is funded under cooperative agreement number UM1 AI148685.