HIV Vaccine Researchers Turned to COVID During the Pandemic. Now, They're Returning to HIV with New Knowledge
Tuesday, May 31, 2022
Researchers like Michael Keefer, M.D., professor of Medicine, and Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for Research, applied their HIV data to the development of RNA vaccines for COVID. "It's a bit of a renaissance," Keefer says. "We're going back to the drawing board, and our blueprint is mRNA vaccines. COVID has given us a lot of safety data that we can use now, and our understanding of vaccine development has grown."
Learn why HIV is a more difficult virus to develop a vaccine for, and how they'll take lessons learned from COVID to conduct new clinical trials.
Angela Branche Co-Chairs NIH Study of Second COVID Booster
Thursday, March 31, 2022
University of Rochester Medical Center researchers are leading a new national COVID vaccine study that will evaluate a second booster dose. The study will include the current approved vaccine and new doses that target the Beta, Delta, and Omicron variants. The goal of the study is to determine which individual or combination variant vaccine provides the broadest protection during potentially future outbreaks.
“For the past two years, we have been playing catch-up with the virus as new variants emerge,” said Angela Branche, M.D., an associate professor of Infectious Diseases and co-director of the URMC Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit (VTEU). “COVID will continue to evolve over time, potentially leading to new variants that cause periods of higher incidence of symptomatic disease. The goal of this study is to move from responsiveness to preparedness.”
Branche – along with Nadine Rouphael, M.D., with Emory University – is national co-chair of the phase 2 clinical trial, known as the COVID-19 Variant Immunologic Landscape (COVAIL) trial. The study is funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, and will seek to recruit up to 600 volunteers at 24 sites across the U.S., including Rochester.
The approved COVID vaccines provided durable protection against severe COVID during the Omicron wave, but were less effective in preventing infection and mild illness. The concern is that a new variant could build upon Omicron, other variants, or even emerge from new branch of mutations altogether. Omicron demonstrated that existing vaccines provide a foundation of protection, leading researchers to believe that strengthening this existing immunity, or even broadening it, could help boost protection against emerging variants and future waves of infection.
NIAID is racing to collect this data in part to help inform policy decisions, including which versions of the vaccine to recommend for future booster doses in the fall, when the combination of waning immunity, a return to school, and congregating indoors often spark the reemergence of respiratory viruses.
The COVAIL study is open to volunteers 18 years and older who already have received a primary COVID vaccination series and booster shot. Researchers will randomly assign volunteers to receive a second booster dose of either the original vaccine, doses engineered against the Beta, Delta, and Omicron variants, or doses that combine variants. Moderna will supply vaccines for the first stage and the clinical trial will expand over time to include vaccines produced by other manufacturers.
The study is being conducted through the Infectious Diseases Clinical Research Consortium, a network of NIAID-supported research sites, including the URMC VTEU, that have been at the forefront of the national scientific response to the COVID pandemic. The URMC VTEU is led by Branche and Ann Falsey, M.D.
For more information, visit: covidresearch.urmc.edu
When Does a Pandemic Become Endemic?
Monday, February 28, 2022
Ann Falsey, M.D., addresses the question of what life may look like once COVID takes its place among other circulating respiratory diseases that, while dangerous for some, do not produce spikes in hospitalization and death.
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Angela Branche Featured as One of Five Inspiring Women in Science
Friday, February 11, 2022
Angela Branche, M.D., associate professor of medicine in infectious diseases and co-director of the URMC Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit, reflected on her role as a woman in research as the University of Rochester Medical Center celebrated International Day of Women and Girls in Science on February 11. She was one of five researchers at URMC who shared their advice to other women and girls interested in science. “I’ll never accept the idea that I’m somehow starting off with a disadvantage because I’m a woman and I dare anyone to treat me otherwise. The only limitations I have are the ones I create and accept for myself,” Branche said.
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