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Houston-area researchers are working on a possible coronavirus vaccine... but it may be a while

HOUSTON – With one “presumptive positive” coronavirus case in Fort Bend County Wednesday, officials in the Houston area are continuing to prepare for a possible outbreak.

Researchers in Galveston have been working on a vaccine some hope could be a potential coronavirus vaccine. At the University of Texas Medical Branch, researchers at the Galveston National Laboratory started work on the vaccine years ago. Director of the lab, Dr. James LeDuc says the work on the vaccine started because of SARS and MERS, which are in the coronavirus family.

“We were about the stage that we had a promising candidate,” said LeDuc. “It was about at the stage where you go from testing in mice to human trials and the decision was made by the funders to stop that. So that work stopped a couple of years ago.”

Since the newest strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, emerged late last year, the Galveston National Laboratory has started pouring its own funding into new trials of the vaccine.

“It takes a least a year,” said LeDuc. “Part of it, you just can’t push and certainly the clinical trials in humans is a long, drawn-out process. It’s very important that this be done because we are talking about a product that can literally go into millions and millions of people.”

While a coronavirus vaccine is at least a year away, the Galveston National Laboratory hopes to get permission for new coronavirus tests within a few days.

Several weeks ago, the lab became the first In the United States to obtain a live strain of the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The isolate that we have is from the first case that was seen in the United States. That was, you’ll recall, the patient in Washington state,” said LeDuc. “CDC was able to isolate a virus from that patient and they’ve shared that with us. We are now sharing it with a network of researchers across the country.”

Researchers at the Galveston National Laboratory have been able to clone it and are now working with it in a petri dish. They now have the ability to create safer tests for those suspected to have been infected with coronavirus, which does not require a live virus that could expose others. LeDuc says a safer test will make coronavirus testing easier and more available throughout the country.

LeDuc says even if their work doesn’t produce the vaccine, it could produce “therapeutics,” that would help treat symptoms of the virus while a vaccine is being developed.

The Galveston National Lab says it will be requesting grant money from Congress to continue its work on the vaccine.

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