U.S. Army officials announced last week that the Medical Research and Development Command (USAMRDC) is closing in on human trials for a coronavirus vaccine.
The command has been quietly working on its own vaccine candidates as part of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, according to Col. Stuart Tyner, director of Military Infectious Diseases Research Program.
Operation Warp Speed is the administration’s aggressive plan to counter the virus that continues to rage across the country and has led to the deaths of over 220,000 Americans and the infection of 8.3 million. One of the key objectives of the operation is the creation and distribution of some 300 million vaccines.
The command is reportedly working hand in hand with private companies in an effort to accelerate the vaccine timeline. “We do have a vaccine that we’ve been working towards maturing and developing,” Tyner said.
According to reports from the U.S. Army, one of the front runners of the vaccine trials is Spike Ferritin Nanoparticle or SpFN. The hallmark of SpFN is a series of spike proteins that block infectious diseases like COVID-19. The use of these spike proteins has been used successfully in other vaccines.
It was the USAMRDC that outfitted medical field hospitals in New York City earlier this year. It’s also flexed its medical muscles overseas in Army labs in Thailand, Kenya, and Georgia where it has also been creating medical solutions to the pandemic.
“[USAMRDC] is uniquely poised, not only to respond to the current issue with the COVID pandemic but also to provide solutions for the warfighter in other regions of the world,” Tyner added.
Kayvon Modjarrad, Director of Emerging Infectious Diseases at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, or WRAIR, has said that his team is preparing to begin human trials by this winter. The timeline is delayed from the original summer timeline, according to U.S. Army officials.
Still, at the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, which took place earlier this month, Modjarrad confirmed that clinical-grade SpFN production began in September and that the vaccine has moved from being tested on mice to non-human primates.
Meanwhile, WRAIR has driven a study of some 40 million compounds that show “activity” with the SARS CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19, according to Col. Tyner. The goal, according to Modjarrad, is to “anticipate future coronaviruses that we haven’t even seen yet.”
While the efforts at USAMRDC and WRAIR will aid in achieving the goals of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed of massively vaccinating the American public, they will also be crucial in protecting the military.
According to Army Surgeon General Lt. General Scott Dingle the Defense Department has reported over 65,000 cases of the virus. “[The virus] does not discriminate,” he said. “It affects people from all echelons and walks of life. The military is not immune to the novel coronavirus.”
But as the pandemic surges across the nation, U.S. Army doctors and experts are working fervently to stop it. The “U.S. Army has doctors, nurses, scientists, and Soldiers working on the front lines to help mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic across our nation,” said Lt. General Dingle.