Montana Public Radio

UM Researchers Working To Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

Apr 24, 2020

University of Montana researchers are working on a vaccination for COVID-19. The Center for Translational Medicine received $2.5 million in funding for the project from the National Institutes of Health.

Director Jay Evans said the lab develops vaccines for the flu, tuberculosis and deadly opioids such as fentanyl. He explained there is always a sense of urgency to the work they do, but coronavirus means even more immediacy.

"You’re coming into work everyday, in the midst of this shutdown: It’s important to know that you’re doing it for a reason," Evans said.

The 40-person lab specializes in vaccine ingredients that stimulate the immune system. In this case, the team only needs one part of the coronavirus to work their magic. They are trying to find a way to stop the virus' spike protein, the part in charge of clinging onto human cells.

"So if you can block that interaction with an antibody, you can stop that person from getting infected," Evans said.

But working with coronavirus means lab members are taking additional safety measures while working on the vaccine. Only about a dozen people are allowed in the lab at one time, and as many team as possible are working from home.

The lab is also working with the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and Boston Children’s Hospital. Evans expects a years-long process to get from lab testing to manufacturing a vaccine at scale, including up to a year and a half before entering the first phase of clinical trials.