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Combatting COVID-19

Researchers at WRAIR are playing a key role in the ongoing COVID-19 response by building upon the Intitute’s ability to rapidly respond to outbreaks on an accelerated timeline to develop diagnostics and treatments.

 

 

Developing a Vaccine

WRAIR’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Branch (EIDB), led by Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, is leading efforts to develop a safe and effective vaccine to prevent infection with COVID-19. They have developed several versions of a novel vaccine candidate based on a platform that has been tested in humans before, and one entered pre-clinical studies in February to see if it will induce strong immune responses in mice. WRAIR’s vaccine is one of many currently in development and will enter clinical trials in September.

The research team has been working round the clock since the beginning of the outbreak, leveraging WRAIR’s vast expertise in vaccine development and recent work on coronaviruses, they have been able to move quickly to advance a vaccine candidate. 

"WRAIR was really built for this,” said Dr. Modjarrad. “We have all the capabilities here in one place dedicated to developing countermeasures for service members, their beneficiaries and our citizens of the United States.”

Leveraging HIV Expertise

Many MHRP researchers have shifted their attention to COVID-19 during the current global health emergency. “It’s critical that people in various fields come together as we focus on learning everything we can about this virus,” said Dr. Morgane Rolland, who usually focuses on HIV viral genomics. “Teamwork will be vitally important to stem the tide of this pandemic.”

Dr. Rolland and her team recently characterized SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus diversification since the beginning of the pandemic and found that the SARS-CoV-2 genome has evolved through a mostly random process rather than through adaptation to the human hosts it encounters. Given the low level of genetic variation, Dr. Rolland thinks that a promising vaccine candidate would likely be equally efficacious against all currently circulating variants of the COVID-19 coronavirus. 

Researching Novel Therapies

WRAIR researchers are also conducting research to identify novel therapies for COVID-19. They are pursuing several drug candidates, similar to the ones WRAIR has successfully develop to treat malaria. In addition, they are conducting studies to identify and characterize monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), a type of immunotherapy. WRAIR has proven experience in this area, having successfully isolated mAbs for other viral pathogens.

Worldwide Impact

MHRP's partner laboratories in Africa and Thailand are also pivoting to detect and track the epidemic. MHRP and EIDB have played a key role in the development of research infrastructure at nearly a dozen sites around the world, and MHRP also supports HIV prevention and treatment through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Many of these partner research laboratories are being leveraged for COVID-19 testing, substantially expanding testing capabilities within these countries.