OC's Hoag Hospital tapped for COVID-19 vaccine trial

(Photo by Thibault Savary / AFP via Getty Images)

Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian kicked off a clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine with the inoculation of four volunteers.

Hoag is the only site for the first phase of the clinical trials of the vaccine developed by NantKwest Inc. and ImmunityBio.

The first phase will include 35 adults, 18 to 55 years old.

"We hope this phase 1 will be completed in the next couple of weeks,'' said Dr. Philip Robinson, the medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology at Hoag.

Then researchers will "pause for a safety review of this vaccine to show it is safe and also stimulates the immune system as we believe it will,'' Robinson said.

"Then we will quickly move into phase 2 and 3 trials with several hundred to several thousand of volunteers,'' Robinson said. "Realistically, phase 2 and 3 will not start until early 2020, but it depends on what we learn from this initial phase,'' he added.

Nursing home residents and frontline workers would most likely get shots first, Robinson said.

"It'll be sometime in 2021 when ideally someone would be able to go down to their retail pharmacy to get a vaccine,'' Robinson said.

Clinical trials of multiple vaccines are being developed nationally and around the world, but, "It's always nice to have different types of vaccines, because some might be better for some people than others,'' he said.

The vaccine being tested at Hoag is unique, Robinson said, because it activates two immune responses.

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"It is really stealth,'' Robinson said. "It avoids the immune system even if you have had previous infections or vaccines. That's a clear advance of this vaccine. It is delivering to our immune system two proteins, the spike protein, which is being delivered in many of the other vaccines... It also delivers the nucleocapsid protein, which is a much larger protein.

"... The way it is delivered is it stimulates the other side of the immune system ... It stimulates both sides of the immune system.''

Robinson said it is expected to also have staying power, and will be easier to disseminate globally.

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"It doesn't require it to be frozen like some of the other vaccine candidates,'' Robinson said. "This remains viable to refrigeration or at room temperature.''

It can also be delivered orally or through a nasal spray, Robinson said.

"So that takes away a lot of the barriers,'' he said. "If you want to vaccinate people all over the world, taking away as many barriers as possible is good.''