EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Pasoans will soon be able to volunteer to receive a new COVID-19 antibody recently approved to be distributed in the Borderland.
Dr. J.D. Burgos, a doctor, researcher and entrepreneur at the El Paso Medical Research Institute, is in the final stages of a COVID-19 vaccine trial that he says will provide immunity against the virus for up to one year.
“It’s definitely interesting,” Burgos told KTSM 9 News. “It’s definitely exciting because it is something that we need in the community right now, based on how affected we have been with all the infections.”
The vaccine is called “Provent” and is made of two distinct antibodies.
Burgos told KTSM 9 News the vaccine is unique in that antibody-based treatments have only been available intravenously (often in hospitals). Treatments like Regeneron, which President Trump received during his bout with COVID-19, are potentially life-saving.
“The main antibody that we use right now is the one that we get from the convalescent plasma, from other patients who were already sick,” said Burgos. “But the interesting thing about this trial is it’s injected — just like a vaccine — and it’s actually not one antibody, but two antibodies, and the most cutting-edge part is they modified the molecules so the immunity lasts for one year — for 12 months.”
Unlike antigen-based vaccines that require valuable time for the body to develop immune defense to, Burgos said Provent will offer almost immediate immunity.
“Because we are providing an antibody, then we don’t need to wait because it is already in your body so it’s just going to replicate,” he said. “So it’s almost immediate. It’ll take a matter of hours or days until it’s fully active in your body, preventing and also treating early potential COVID infections.”
Burgos developed Provent using federal grant money, which means the vaccine is not in the race that pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer or Moderna are in and is easily transported.
According to Burgos, “another advantage that we’re seeing from this is, you don’t need to store it at -100 degrees, which is one of the main issues with the vaccines that we’re seeing that requires very specific storage and this will limit the ability to really put this in very remote places.”
This advantage means communities in remote areas, like third world countries, will have access to the vaccine at a minimal cost because it won’t require the low temperatures necessary for storage and transportation.
The Provent trial gained Institutional Review Board-approval last week, giving Burgos the green light to conduct trials on volunteers.
The El Paso Medical Institute is currently recruiting volunteers to receive the vaccine for free and to be paid to be part of the trial.
“We’re looking for individuals 18 years or older who have not suffered from COVID. Specifically, we’re looking for individuals from vulnerable populations, which is health care workers, people working in industries where they are serving people day after day, and more importantly are elder, people age 65 and older,” said Burgos. “They are the population at the greatest risk for suffering complications of COVID, so these are the people we are looking for.”
The vaccine will be administered in double-blind, randomized trials, which means neither the research investigators nor participants will know whether the Provent vaccine or a placebo was administered until after the trial.
“When we have a trial like this,” said Burgos, “we can’t control who gets what. In order to know if a medication really works, we compare this with a placebo. So this is double-blinded, meaning that the patient doesn’t know what they’re getting and we, as investigators, don’t know what the patient is getting.”
“This is the way every medication goes into trial. That way we cannot alter the results and no one can alter the results. So we have true data from it,” Burgos continued.
About one-third of trial participants will receive a placebo that will have no affect on the body and two-thirds of participants will receive Provent.
“So not everyone will get it in the study phase — 100 percent of the patients involved are not going to get the medication. Once it’s FDA-approved, then yes, everyone can get it no matter what,” said Burgos.
A critical advantage of the vaccine trial in El Paso is people can receive it for free.
“Patients who participate in the trial, because they have to come to the clinic, they have to be tested, they have to be followed-up several times a year, the developer or the pharmaceutical company is going to compensate the patient for their time involved in the study,” said Burgos.
“So they don’t have to pay a single cent or a single penny for the medication or for spending time following-up or getting labs checked,” he added.
Burgos also told KTSM that side effects of the vaccine are minimal and have been mostly allergic reactions at the injection site.
Community members are invited to learn more and participate in the trial, and Burgos is hopeful it will positively affect the community.
“That’s what we’re trying to do: to get people healthy, to keep people healthy. And keep people out of the hospitals because if you’re in a state where you need to be in the hospital, then that means that the illness is too severe,” he said.
“Really that is the intention of this, to keep El Paso healthy. To keep El Paso strong, right?”
To learn about the clinical trial, click here.