A University of Pittsburgh laboratory soon will tackle researching a possible vaccine against COVID-19 — the newly named disease caused by the coronavirus outbreak that surfaced in Wuhan, China, late last year.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the University of Pittsburgh’s requests to be among U.S. academic labs guiding the research against the potentially fatal disease. On Wednesday, university officials signed a material transfer agreement to bring samples of the virus to Pittsburgh for testing. They are expected to arrive in as early as a few days.
“We have a responsibility to play a part within the global effort to deal with this emerging infectious disease,” said Paul Duprex, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Vaccine Research.
The university has a 146-employee laboratory designed for modeling such viruses and is well equipped to do the work safely and effectively, he said.
“Pittsburgh is a place which has a really rich history in infectious diseases,” Duprex said. “And we have all the facilities, all of the expertise and all of the capabilities to work with it in the university.
“We can safely work with the virus, we can grow it, we can examine how it behaves, and then we can do work to model the diseases caused by that.”
The COVID-19 disease, which received its formal name Tuesday, has affected several people in the United States, but there are no suspected cases reported in Pennsylvania.
The common flu continues to pose a much deadlier local threat, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine reiterated in a public statement earlier this month.
Since October, there have been more than 45,000 diagnosed cases of flu and 33 deaths in Pennsylvania, according to Levine.
As the Wolf administration and the Department of Health continue to monitor the outbreak occurring in China and cases in the U.S., the administration emphasized that Asian American/Pacific Islander people are at no higher risk of carrying coronavirus than any other person.
Duprex said the work is just beginning to fully understand the disease, who’s most at risk and how to stop it from spreading.
“At the moment, we don’t know a lot about it,” Duprex said.
He emphasized the need for colleges, nonprofits, governments and private pharmaceutical companies to collaborate toward finding an effective vaccine and other public health solutions.
And he urged members of the public to be patient and not overly scared by possible misinformation.
Pitt officials will be pursuing funding from local and national foundations, nonprofits, and government sources for the vaccine research, which takes significant money and resources to do right, Duprex said.
“There are many, many individuals interested in sorting out this problem,” Duprex said. “And that’s good, because you have all of those partners coming together, working together for the same purpose.
“This is not a competition. This is a collaboration. It’s a collaboration to solve a problem, and this problem needs to be solved.”
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .
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