Rochester picked for vaccine clinical trial

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The University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health are mounting a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, officials of the organizations announced Tuesday.

The trial will test an experimental vaccine, developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNtech SE, that seeks to use mRNA to disrupt the COVID-19 virus’ attempt to take over human cells. The Rochester trial is one of four U.S. sites picked by Pfizer to test the vaccine. 

A relatively new development in immunology, mRNA vaccines have been investigated since the early 1990s. Like traditional vaccines, they work by coaxing the body to produce antibodies to attack invading pathogens. Traditional vaccines introduce mild forms of pathogens strong enough to call antibodies into action but too weak to cause serious harm. 

mRNA vaccines induce the body to produce antibodies to fight invading pathogens by using a smaller snippet of mRNA to instruct cells to produce antibodies. (RNA stands for ribonucleic acid, a molecule that translates instructions coded in genes into action in living beings. The “m” in mRNA stands for messenger.)

One of mRNA vaccines’ chief virtues is that they require a shorter development time than traditional vaccines. Pfizer is simultaneously running Phase I and Phase II trials of four mRNA COVID-19 vaccines.

Viruses like COVID-19 invade host organisms’ cells and steal the cells’ genetic material to make copies of themselves. The cancellation of hosts’ normal functions results in disease. In some viruses, including the COVID-19 coronavirus, RNA rather than DNA carries genetic information. 

The randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial will recruit 90 individuals in the Rochester area ages 18 to 85 who have not been infected with COVID-19 and will evaluate the safety, tolerability, and immunogenicity of up to four variations of the vaccine, UR officials said.  

URMC will conduct the trial, while the recruitment of study volunteers and testing of the vaccine will occur at Rochester General Hospital. The study is the only active COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial in Upstate New York, officials say.

Volunteers seeking to take part in the mRNA vaccine trial should call (585) 922-5944 or email [email protected] for information. 

Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. All Rochester Beacon coronavirus articles are collected here.

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