The Saranac Lake Chamber of Commerce recently named Adirondack Health and the Trudeau Institute joint businesses of the year due to their work to help the regional community during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the award was presented, the conversation included a look at what role the Institute plays in global pandemic vaccine research.
The Trudeau Institute began the late 1800’s researching ways to ease or cure tuberculosis. It is now a leading research center in infectious lung diseases including tuberculosis, influenza, cancer, and Lyme. This year the institute has diverted its research focus to COVID-19. It was lauded by the local chamber for its work with nearby Adirondack Health to sanitize PPE and deliver thousands of vials of COVID testing liquid to the region.
Trudeau Institute researchers are also part of the global scientific community studying potential cures for the virus. Institute President Dr. Atsuo Kuki says there are about 100 projects globally seeking a vaccine. “It’s the largest enterprise I’ve ever seen in any biomedical effort because it’s all synchronized. It’s all launching at the same time. It’s staggering. So we’re looking at progress which has never been seen before. They’re moving fast. You’re going to get some I think very good news from the clinical trials on at least a couple of these things in this year. But that being said that doesn’t mean that it will solve the whole problem. And so these are very very complex things. Normally vaccines cannot be done this fast. So I do not believe that anything that comes out gets even some kind of partial approval in 2020.”
Kuki explained his reservations that approval of a vaccine may not occur by the end of this year. “Production is definitely a huge problem. Remember you have to produce something that you’re going to stick in millions of people. It has to be not just slightly pure it has to be unbelievably pure. But also, what everybody knows, is there’s some kind of testing that has to happen, clinical trials. This takes a lot of time. It usually takes like you know five years. You need to know whether or not you can give this to healthy people of different ages. You need to learn who you can give it to. It would be a lot easier if all human beings were homogenous then it would be easier. We’re going to see some amazing progress coming out of science but it’s still not going to be just turning a switch. You know there’ll be a combination of many things. A vaccine that starts to help some people could happen sooner than I could believe and that’s great but we’re going to need a combination of many different things to get ourselves out of this.”
Trudeau Institute Board vice-chair Kip Testwuide says in lieu of a vaccine, rapid testing results must be a priority. “Businesses need confidence both to grow, to prosper and to reopen. And clearly having a greater volume of testing is one step but having more rapid results of that testing. Some of these tests have to go a long way to be tested and often run into bottlenecks if there’s an extreme outbreak somewhere else. So to have rapid response testing I think is our next step to building confidence.”
Dr. Kuki anticipates that there will be more than one vaccine developed to control or cure COVID-19.