(Note to media: Interviews with Texas Biomed researchers are available with advance notice. Photos and videos of rhesus macaques and Texas Biomed’s Level 3 and 4 biosafety labs are available on request.)
SAN ANTONIO (April 27, 2021) – As the world faced an emerging global pandemic a year ago, scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute took action. Rhesus macaques at Texas Biomed’s Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) were quickly validated as study models of vaccines designed to protect humans against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been tested in this model at the Institute and has now been administered to millions of people around the world.
âIt’s great to have contributed to the development of this important vaccine,â said Deepak Kaushal, Ph.D., professor and director of SNPRC. âThis is one of the circumstances in which we helped develop a vaccine in the months following the onset of this new disease. The vaccine has been shown to be very effective in protecting against COVID-19. As long as everyone in the United States who can get the vaccine is doing so over the next few months, I think we could close the door to this pandemic before other variants emerge. “
The work carried out by dozens of scientists at Pfizer, BioNTech, Texas Biomed, the SNPRC and scientific partners around the world from April to July 2020 is now published in the scientific journal Nature. In the article titled “Immunogenic BNT162b vaccines protect rhesus macaques from SARS-CoV-2” published on February 1, 2021, scientists noted that the vaccine candidate tested for Pfizer “protects the lower respiratory tract from the presence of viral RNA and without evidence of improvement in the disease. “
âTexas Biomed and the SNPRC have the resources and expertise to support this type of work, and as the vaccine rollout continues and we continue to hear about vaccine reluctance, we think it’s important to share how vaccines are developed, âexplained Dr Larry. Schlesinger, President / CEO of Texas Biomed. âAs science has evolved rapidly in a time of great global need, these vaccines – whether it’s Pfizer, Moderna, or any of the others that are cleared by the FDA for emergency use – are all subject to rigorous development, testing and review by regulatory authorities before release to the public. Preclinical testing is a critical step in the scientific process. ”
SARS-CoV-2 is spread when droplet particles containing the virus are spread from person to person by coughing, sneezing, talking or singing. The virus usually enters through the nose, but can then enter the lower airways of the lungs.
âThe lungs are filled with water,â Kaushal explained. “Patients develop pneumonia and other types of lung abnormalities. This is what leads to the use of ventilators and, subsequently, to poor outcomes, including death. By reducing or eliminating the lower respiratory tract virus, we can significantly reduce the severe effects of the disease. “
During the three-month experiment, scientists used rhesus macaques to test two of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine candidates. Although macaques do not succumb to the disease, as shown in a study published in Nature Microbiology last year, they are very effective at reproducing the disease. These non-human primates share 93% of human DNA, making them excellent models for the study of infectious diseases.
âThere is no exceptional non-human primate model yet for COVID-19,â Kaushal explained. “None of the monkey species studied develop end-stage or advanced COVID, equivalent to the severe disease seen in humans. However, rhesus macaques are our best-known model for PET lung imaging / CT More importantly, the immunology of this species is very well documented. “
“Our job was to test two constructs of messenger RNA vaccines in rhesus macaques,” Kaushal said. “While the two were similar in their effectiveness in our studies, Pfizer and BioNTech chose BNT162b2.”
The effect of the two candidate vaccines has been tested not only by measuring viral levels, but also with advanced imaging modalities and blood tests. The virus used in the tests was the Seattle strain that emerged in the United States in early 2020. The sample was provided by the Biomedical Engineering Institute Resources Repository, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. The virus was produced in a Texas Biomed lab by virus specialist Ricardo Carrion, Ph.D., professor and research director on maximum containment contracts.
âThe developers of messenger RNA vaccines were way ahead of most of the other competitors,â Kaushal said. “They had studied these types of viruses earlier with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) ten years ago and SARS-1 which caused an epidemic centered in China 20 years ago.”
The experience with these vaccine platforms from the 1990s set the stage for the speed with which this vaccine was developed. Rapid therapy and vaccine development have been supported by the worldwide effort of scientists and resources who have made this crisis their top priority.
Texas Biomed to Host Virtual Symposium on Global Health
From April 29 to 30, 2021, Texas Biomed is teaming up with other world leaders in infectious diseases to organize a Virtual Symposium on Global Health. As an independent, non-profit infectious disease research institute, Texas Biomed focuses on bringing together a range of thought leaders involved in global health, research, sustainability, and policy.
Among the more than 50 speakers over ten sessions, Kaushal will moderate a discussion with Isis Kanevsky, Ph.D., director of bacterial vaccines and preclinical research models at Pfizer. The two will discuss the research published in Nature and the implications for the current pandemic and diseases on the horizon. The timely event will provide exclusive insight into the creation of the COVID vaccine from the perspective of Pfizer and Texas Biomed. For more information on the upcoming event, click here.
âWe train for times like these,â Kaushal said. âWe can be tired in the sense that once this pandemic is better controlled with more and more people vaccinated, we will want to go back to ‘normal’ and not worry about the next pandemic. However, I would say the next pandemic may not be in ten years. It might only be five years from now. We need to stay alert and informed, and be better prepared for the next infectious disease threat that lies before us. “
* The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2, has not been approved or cleared by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but has been cleared for emergency use by the FDA under ‘an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to prevent Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) for use in persons 16 years of age and older. Emergency use of this product is only permitted for the duration of the declaration of the existence of circumstances justifying the authorization of emergency use of the medical product under section 564 (b) ( 1) of the FD&C Act, unless the declaration is terminated or the authorization revoked earlier. . Please see the Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) information sheet for healthcare providers administering a vaccine (vaccination providers), including the full prescribing information on the EUA available at the next address: http: // www.
About Texas Biomed
Texas Biomed is one of the world’s leading independent biomedical research institutes dedicated to eradicating infections and improving global health through innovative biomedical research. Texas Biomed is collaborating with researchers and institutions around the world to develop vaccines and therapies against the viral pathogens that cause AIDS, hepatitis, hemorrhagic fever, tuberculosis, and the parasitic diseases that cause malaria and schistosomiasis. The Institute has programs on host-pathogen interaction, disease intervention and prevention, and population health to understand the links between infectious diseases and other diseases such as aging, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity. For more information on Texas Biomed, visit http: // www.