CHICAGO (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — Northwestern Medicine is looking for recruits for trials for a potential COVID-19 vaccine.
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is sponsoring the research and has set up a registry for potential participants for the trials of vaccines and other studies. The first study, set for August, will be a Phase III trial for a vaccine being developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute, in conjunction with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.
“There is a few different vaccine candidates right now that are entering or starting Phase III clinical trials that all have some slight differences in them, but we’ll all kind of be looking the same thing in these trials – so clinical efficacy in terms of producing antibodies, and also looking to see if it actually prevents infection with COVID-19,” Dr. Karen Krueger, the principal investigator of the registry, told CBS 2’s Brad Edwards on “Hour 18” Monday night.
Participants in the registry will be contacted after a study on their health profile is complete. The goal is to recruit 5,000 people, not only for the Oxford vaccine study, but for other trials in the future that Northwestern may conduct as part of the National Institutes of Health COVID Prevention Network.
Northwestern is looking for at-risk people 18 or older who work in a job that puts them at high risk. That includes health care workers, grocery store or retail outlet employees, public transportation employees, factory or plant workers, and people who live or work in congregate living facilities like such as nursing homes.
Northwestern is also looking for people from communities that are disproportionately affected by COVID-19, including seniors, racial and ethnic groups such as African-Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans, and people with underlying health conditions.
“We’re basically just trying to cast a really wide net right now, focusing on those individuals who are of higher risk of developing active disease,” Kreuger said. “But again, we’re kind of just looking for anybody who may be interested so we can match them up to a trial that fits for them in the future.”
The results of the Phase I/II trial of the Oxford vaccine that will be the subject of the first study showed that it is safe and “produced strong immune results,” according to the research published last Monday in The Lancet medical journal.
The vaccine caused a 2-pronged immune response, a news release from the Jenner Institute at Oxford said. First, within 14 days, it triggered a T cell response, generating white blood cells that can attack infected cells. Second, within 28 days, it provoked an antibody response. Antibodies are able to prevent the virus from infecting cells when it is initially contracted, according to a news release.
Oxford is working with AstraZeneca to develop, manufacture, and produce a coronavirus vaccine on a large scale. The unprecedented effort aims to make some 2 billion doses of the vaccine available globally, through partnerships with manufacturers in several countries, by early next year.
Vaccine candidates for the novel coronavirus are moving ahead at a pace that is historically unmatched. Kreuger said the studies are being conducted carefully and the participants are being chosen deliberatively.
“We’re really just trying to kind of focus on building this registry for interested candidates, and then if we do have a clinical trial that matches up with them, we would be contacting those individuals and having a further kind of risk-benefit discussion on entering that specific clinical trial. So obviously, we’re going to want to watch out for any kind of effects that they vaccine may cause over time. So for the AstraZeneca study, for example, we’ll be following participants for two years after the vaccine.”
Meanwhile in the news on Monday, Google announced that its employees will be working from home until at least June 2021 due to the pandemic.
The technology giant had previously planned to bring workers back to its offices beginning in January. Its new policy makes Alphabet the first major U.S. corporation to definitively extend its work-from-home timeline so far into the future.
“To give employees the ability to plan ahead, we are extending our global voluntary work from home option through June 30, 2021, for roles that don’t need to be in the office,” Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote in an email to employees.
In the wake of that news, Kreuger said it is too soon to know whether a vaccine will be online to end the pandemic by then.
“I think that still remains to be seen. Right now, I think it’s just a little bit too early to say how effective these vaccine that are being trialed are going to be until we’re able to accumulate that data. And I think when people are ready to go back to work depends on a lot of factors – so how prevalent the virus is in the area, and what precautions are possible at each individual work location in terms of keeping people six feet apart and masked, et cetera, so I think there’s a lot of different factors that go into play there,” Kreuger said. “So I think we’re all very hopeful that one of these many vaccine candidates will work; will provide the protection to make people comfortable to get back to normal life next year, but I think it’s still a little bit early to say.”
The planned sites for the Northwestern vaccine trials are the Northwestern campus in Streeterville, Lake Forest Hospital, and Central DuPage Hospital.
This effort is separate from a Phase III study at the University of Illinois at Chicago. That study, which began Monday, involves a different vaccine candidate developed by Moderna, which also showed promising Phase I results.
CBS News’ Haley Ott, Tucker Reals, and Megan Cerullo contributed to this report.