City of Hope and the University of Irvine School of Pharmaceutical Sciences have shared new information regarding COVID-19 vaccine development in Irvine and Orange County.

If trials continue as planned, lead researchers at City of Hope estimate that the public could have access to a locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.

In Irvine, Dr. Jan D. Hirsch, Founding Dean, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, UCI, spoke during a virtual Vaccine Event hosted by the Irvine-based Orange County Business Council on Thursday, Dec. 17.

Hirsch explained that the development of UC Irvine’s COVID-19 vaccine is not as far along as the City of Hope’s vaccine, but her team of Irvine-based researchers has been working to develop a variety of COVID-19 vaccines using different approaches, focusing on all aspects of testing, treatment and vaccine development since the pandemic began.

“Our researchers turned on a dime, back in March, and changed the focus of their research to the pandemic,” she said. “We’re using different platforms, and that’s very important — because we very well might need a lot of different approaches to this.”

For a more in depth look at the details of research, Hirsch explained that one method of COVID-19 vaccine development occurring at UCI involves using parts of the COVID-19 virus from an asymptomatic case in order to create a response within another the patient’s immune system.

“Taking elements of the virus itself – from asymptomatic patients – and using those elements to actually move them into other patients – to stimulate an immune response, which is the goal of all of the different platforms,” Hirsch explained. “In that one, we’re looking at possibly an intra-nasal administration.”

Hirsch added that there are a host of unknowns when it comes to the current effectiveness of the existing vaccines in terms of longevity.

Hirsch explained that there was still much to learn and endure in terms of battling the pandemic.

“This is the beginning. We still need to keep up all our precautions, and this isn’t going to fix everything right away – and I think that’s really important for people to understand.”

Harlan Levine M.D., President of Strategy and Business Ventures for City of Hope, which recently partnered with FivePoint to open a $1 billion Cancer Care Center in Irvine, also spoke during the OCBC Virtual Vaccine Event.

Levine explained that the City of Hope began researching the development of a COVID-19 vaccine shortly after the first COVID-19 cases were reported in Orange County.

Levine added that vaccine development at City of Hope became a primary focus early on, based on the high mortality rate seen in COVID-19 infections among cancer patients – which accounts for more than 50 percent of those being treated at City of Hope.

“We know that the mortality rate is significantly higher in all cancer patients – and at any given time inside of City of Hope 70 percent of patients are immune comprised,” Levine said. “We knew this was something that we needed to address and we could not rely on others alone.” 

Currently, according to Levine, City of Hope is now in Phase 1 of its COVID-19 vaccine trials, but cautioned that progress within these trials should not interfere with the vaccines that are currently available.

“We are in Phase 1 trials, and very excited about that. The endpoint, though, if our trials go as anticipated, is by the end of next year we will be available to the public,” he said. “I don’t want that message to confuse anyone about what they need to do today, so they can be safe and we can get through this sooner.”

Levine added that Phase 1 of City of Hope’s COVID-19 trials have created a “highly immunogenic” response within the the immune compromised and the elderly.

On Monday, Jan. 4, the Orange County Health Care Agency reported 8,990 new COVID-19 cases, with 25 COVID-19 related deaths. OC Health noted that the total number of positive cases included the accumulative totals of Jan. 2, Jan. 3 and Jan. 4.

The city of Irvine added 382 new COVID-19 cases between Saturday Jan. 2 and Monday Jan. 4.