Northwestern, Chicago-area hospitals conduct vaccine clinical trials among other preventative studies


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

The Feinberg School of Medicine. Researchers at the school recently discovered Illinois’ first case of the P.1 COVID-19 variant.

Yonjoo Seo, Reporter

Northwestern Medicine is recruiting 5,000 adult volunteers for a clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine candidate and other preventative studies through a registry, it announced in a July 27 news release.

Supported by the Feinberg School of Medicine, the Phase 3 trial of the AstraZeneca LLC vaccine seeks participants at risk of being exposed to the virus, such as health care and service workers, those with health complications and communities of color disproportionately impacted by the virus. It is one of the six vaccine candidates in the world that have progressed to Phase 3, the stage in which researchers vaccinate thousands of people to compare the number of infections between the vaccinated and placebo groups.

Researchers will measure the vaccine’s efficacy by comparing risk of getting COVID-19 between the vaccine and placebo group, wrote Karen Krueger, a Feinberg Prof. and principal investigator of the registry, in an email. They will simultaneously look at the safety and tolerability of the vaccine, and measure immunogenicity, the antibody responses to the vaccine.

The studies are still recruiting, as they need enough individuals to meet enrollment criteria and sufficient variability among participants to represent a diverse population, Krueger said.

The University of Illinois at Chicago will enroll up to 1,000 people for a Phase 3 clinical trial of the Moderna vaccine.

UIC researchers are screening for high-risk participants to compare the vaccine and placebo groups, and measure the success of the vaccine, said Richard Novak, UIC infectious diseases Prof. and the lead investigator of the Moderna vaccine trial.

“We’re working feverishly to get everything up and running, but there’s a lot of stuff in the news that some people won’t take (the vaccine) even if it’s shown to be effective,” Novak said. “One of the most common myths is that you get the disease from the vaccine, but that’s simply not possible, as the vaccine is only giving small components of the virus and there’s no way you can get clinically ill from that.”

Loyola University Chicago also has plasma and other drug clinical trials ongoing for patients in their hospitals, along with some pending and being reviewed, said Colleen Fitzgerald, Loyola Stritch School of Medicine Prof. and director of the Clinical Research Office.

Schools such at NU, UIC, the University of Chicago and Loyola are members of or affiliated with the Clinical Translational Science Awards, a program that helps researchers collaborate and share different findings.

“We’re all working in concert, helping each other,” Fitzgerald said. “But there hasn’t even been an interim analysis where you look at the preliminary data to see if there are early results.”

Although a COVID-19 vaccine may not yet be available and not everyone will be chosen for clinical trials, Feinberg Prof. Judd Hultquist said people can do their part by social distancing and wearing masks to help prevent the virus from further spreading.

“By putting up a barrier between your mucous membranes and someone else’s, you can effectively limit the transmission of those small virus-containing particles,” he said. “When used properly, masks (and social distancing) can do an incredible amount of good in preventing the spread of infectious disease.”

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