Scientists across Texas build on each other’s research to create coronavirus vaccine

Local News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As Texans learn more about the new COVID-19 cases in the state, researchers are racing to create a vaccine suitable for preventing coronavirus.

Dr. James Le Duc was among the medical professionals and scientists to testify at a panel at the State Capitol this week. Le Duc told lawmakers on the House Public Health Committee that the virus can survive on hard surfaces like door handles and elevator buttons for upwards of 9-10 days. The virus can survive on porous surfaces for 3-5 days, Le Duc said.

“So this is why you hear over and over again — wash your hands,” Le Duc said.

Le Duc is the director of University of Texas Medical Branch’s Galveston National Laboratory, which he said is primarily funded through the National Institutes of Health. His team has three candidates in development.

“We’ve provided it to our hospital, the hospital is now validating it,” he told lawmakers.

His work builds upon research done by people like Dr. Jason McLellan at the University of Texas at Austin. McClellan is an associate professor of molecular biosciences in the College of Natural Sciences. He has studied coronaviruses since the SARS outbreak in 2002.

“Our ultimate goal is to try and create a pan-coronavirus vaccine— a vaccine that that would protect you not just from SARS or MERS, but could work broadly and perhaps even protect people from coronaviruses that haven’t even emerged into the population yet,” McLellan said in January. He wants the work to serve as part of a “pandemic preparedness.”

“He’s got a great idea,” Le Duc said. “Now we can take that to our laboratory where we can test it on the live virus and really demonstrate whether or not it works.”

“So this kind of partnership is critical,” Le Duc added. “Texas is incredibly well positioned for this.”

While urban areas have soaked up much of the coronavirus spotlight, rural hospitals are preparing for cases to emerge.

“This is a mobile society, and to think that we can isolate ourselves in rural West Texas is just not reasonable,” Donna Boatright, chief executive officer of Rolling Plains Memorial Hospital in Sweetwater, Texas, said.

Doctors involved in vaccine research and development said they hope to beat the odds of the typical turnaround, which can add up to five years or more. The earliest they expect a vaccine to be ready for clinical trials is 12-24 months, with 18 months being a popular figure.

Boatright said she would be willing to participate in a trial of a brand new vaccine, even if it had not yet been rigorously tested, if she needed to.

“I personally would be willing to participate in that if we got to that point,” she said.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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