Dr. Larry Corey lays out Fred Hutch’s approach to COVID vaccine development

In a recent interview with the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Center, the organization’s former President and Director, Dr. Larry Corey, explained the vaccine development initiative he’s leading.

Dr. Corey is heading Fred Hutch’s internal operations center for the COVID-19 Prevention Network – a collaboration formed by Dr. Tony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to manage multiple large-scale clinical trials of coronavirus vaccines.

Corey’s team will run COVID vaccine trials that will each have 30,000 participants and is expected to evaluate 5-7 vaccine candidates.

 

 

On the compressed timeline for vaccine approval, which can often take up to 10 years, Corey said that his team will still be doing three phased trials as per usual.

One phase can begin before the other is completed. We are going at lightning speed to reduce the transitions, which usually are months between the stages. In fact, manufacturing processes are also going ahead. They’re actually manufacturing vaccines now and the U.S. government is buying them ‘at risk.’ (Paying for them in anticipation they can be used). We hope they do work and distribute it, and we’re doing everything we possibly can to make sure that the assessments are done.”

Corey confirmed that the Gates Foundation will play a role in manufacturing, building factories, and working with companies for scale, as well as bringer smaller companies into the fold.

A specialist in virology, immunology and vaccine development, Corey’s research focuses on herpes viruses, HIV and other viral infections. His past work has included working on antiviral R&D for herpes, HIV and hepatitis infections. He also currently serves as principal investigator of the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, which conducts studies of HIV vaccines in over 30 cities on five continents.

Drawing from his experience at the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, Corey is advocating for a collaborative approach to vaccine development.

COVID-19 is a re-living of what happened 39 years ago in HIV, when it was difficult and frustrating…The lesson that we learned then is that when the academic, biotech and pharmaceutical communities put their collective scientific assets together, things happen,” Corey recently told Fred Hutch. “Science is about resilience. You have to have optimism, resilience and perseverance.”

Corey and Dr. John Mascola, Director, Vaccine Research Center, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently co-authored an article in Science with Dr. Fauci and Dr. Francis Collins calling for collaboration between academia, government and industry to develop potential vaccines for COVID-19.

Collaboration will be essential among biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, many of which are bringing forward a variety of vaccine approaches. The full development pathway for an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 will require that industry, government, and academia collaborate in unprecedented ways, each adding their individual strengths,” the Drs wrote.

Providing an empirical example of one such collaborative pathway, in the paper they discuss a new program called ACTIV (Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines) public-private partnership. Led by the NIH, this effort aims to develop a “coordinated research strategy for prioritizing and speeding development of the most promising treatments and vaccines.”

In addition to his lab work and experience as Fred Hutch President, Corey also directed the Virology Program of the University of Washington. With experience in several of the fields he will now seek to coordinate, Corey underscored the importance of building partnerships and, in the process, a “mass expertise.”

This cultivation of mass expertise, Corey said, allows him to proceed with optimism, if not quite confidence.

You’re never confident of anything, and if you are, that’s hubris. … That we are running 30,000-person trials under Operation Warp Speed is both a compliment and a challenge. What’s wonderful is that the we now have 72 clinical trial sites in this combined effort with our partners, and we’ve worked together. We know each other. These are the most prominent infectious disease people. They’ve all been involved in the COVID epidemic in their own right. You know, it’s the strength of that mass of expertise that gives me the optimism to say that we’re going to do well.”