Montana lab at forefront of coronavirus vaccine research

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Posted at 9:18 AM, May 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-16 11:20:45-04

NEW YORK — The director of the National Institute of Health says no corners will be cut in the search for a vaccine -- which is going on here in Montana -- and there’s encouraging news about a potential vaccine now being tested on humans and monkeys.

NIH researchers in Montana -- who tested the vaccine using six rhesus macaque monkeys -- say they those that received the vaccine developed protective antibodies against COVID-19 – but it’s what happened next that’s giving doctor’s hope.

That’s because whey they exposed the animals to coronavirus, the monkeys that were not vaccinated developed pneumonia – a sign of COVID-19. But those that got the vaccine – and developed those protective antibodies – had no pneumonia and no virus in their lungs.

When asked why it isn't enough to show that a vaccine elicits an antibody response -- and why more testing is needed, Dr. Kathryn Edwards who directs vaccine research at Vanderbilt University said, “we need to know that it protects the animal or the human from the infection. And just having the antibody, if it doesn't work to prevent disease -- it's not going to cut it.

The vaccine used in the study is being developed by Oxford University and uses a cold virus that’s been modified so it can’t spread infection. It’s packed with genetic material from the coronavirus and when injected it triggers an immune response that teaches the body to recognize and fight a future infection.

Oxford’s Adrian Hill says that if it works the vaccine has another important benefit, “this is not a hugely difficult vaccine to make. So, large scale is feasible -- we believe.”

A different study showed rhesus monkeys and humans have about 93% of their DNA in common. But researchers won't be celebrating until a vaccine is safe and effective in people.