City of Hope testing its own COVID-19 vaccine

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Saturday, December 19, 2020
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City of Hope is testing its own experimental vaccine for COVID-19 in hopes that it can develop something even more effective than those from Pfizer and Moderna.

DUARTE, Calif. (KABC) -- Glendora resident Lupe Duarte is the first volunteer to participate in a phase-one clinical trial at City of Hope, which is testing an investigational COVID-19 vaccine.

This one was conceived, developed, constructed and manufactured locally.

"No fear, no fear whatsoever. Again I'm in a trusted and safe space here and I feel that this is something that can benefit me. Not getting COVID benefits myself, benefits my family," said Duarte.

While there are other vaccines further along, this one is taking a bit longer because researchers chose to develop a whole new concept and platform.

"In all honesty, we had a much higher mountain to climb than our friends at Pfizer, Biontech, Moderna and the other companies," said hematology professor Dr. Don Diamond, lead developer on the vaccine.

He says their formula is similar to what's already out there, targeting the spike protein, preventing infection. What's different is the T cell response from a second protein.

"The T cells can attack those cells which are infected so that the virus doesn't continue to propagate, so you can put a lid on the infection," he said.

Potentially, this could create an even stronger immune response.

"Six months from now, it's anybody's guess whether the Moderna or the Pfizer vaccine will still provide the umph so that the body can still recognize if it's being infected," said Diamond.

Although they're not first, they do have a chance to stand out, which is why City of Hope is also trying to focus on people 65 and up, those who are immunocompromised, and achieving the holy grail in the vaccine world.

"To have a freeze-dried form that would be available to be shipped at room temperature. And that would distinguish ours from the Pfizer and the Moderna forms," he said.

For Duarte, the hopeful possibilities far outweigh the risk.

"If I can share my story and get some more people to participate, to feel comfortable through the clinical trial process, then my purpose has been served," she said.

Three more volunteers will receive their first dose Saturday, followed by about 30 others. The first phase is expected to last four months.