Metro scientists, doctors joining effort to find COVID-19 vaccine

Tracking Coronavirus

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The search for a cure is on.

Medical research teams, including at least two collections of scientists from the Kansas City metro, are working toward finding a vaccine for COVID-19. Workers are ramping up their efforts to find medicines that can slow and eventually eliminate the effects of coronavirus.

“If we can get an effective vaccine, this will be a tremendous accomplishment,” Dr. Jed Ervin said on Tuesday.

Ervin, who works with the Center for Pharmaceutical Research in south Kansas City, represents a lab filled with hope. He said he’s been part of 80 clinical trials — searches for vaccines to cure ailments such as ebola and Lassa Fever.

Now Ervin’s group is testing a potential vaccine called Inovio. Some funding for the study comes from Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.

“A lot of times, people get involved in a vaccine trial, they’re doing it because they get a stipend for it. I think, now, people are doing it because there’s no vaccine out there,” Ervin said.

Ervin, a lifelong Kansas Citian, said 40 people are involved in these trials, and medical techs are working these experiments faster than any trial beforehand. A group from the University of Pennsylvania is also involved in that study.

“We hope this will be ready as soon as it can be. That may be a year. It might be a little faster than a year,” Ervin said.

Meanwhile, a separate group affiliated with the University of Kansas Health System is also working a vaccine trial.

Infectious disease specialists there are already experimenting with anti-coronavirus medicines, including hydroxychloroquine and zithromax, the popular antibiotic known as “Z-Pack.” Add to that list losartan, a blood pressure medicine that, according to physicians at KU Health System, may have an effect in clearing the lining of a COVID-19 patient’s lungs.

“From day one, we’ve been trying to create criteria, trying to get into trials for these medications. Just to see the efficacy and safety of them. We’re still going forward with them,” Dr. Dana Hawkinson said.

Hawkinson also said another study will begin soon involving health care workers who take hydroxychloroquine before they’re exposed to COVID-19 patients, and using it as preventative medicine as a method of flattening the curve and squleching the spread.

Ervin said his group is also working to get involved in a second clinical trial soon. He and the physicians affiliated with KU agree they’d be proud to play a role in unlocking the coronavirus cure.

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