University of Miami working to develop vaccine

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - Scientists at the University of Miami have teamed up with a North Carolina company, and they have a medical mission of urgent concern.

In the race to develop a vaccine to combat the coronavirus, experts have stressed it will not happen overnight.

“The whole process is going to take a year, a year and a half at least,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institutes of Health.

Scientists from across the country and around the world are working toward the same goal, but they’re using very different approaches in the fight to stop the global pandemic.

Dr. Natasa Strbo, with the University of Miami, said, “It’s a long path. There’s no question about that.”

Inside the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, immunologists are researching ways to use a special protein found in the human body to activate an immune response against the coronavirus.

To do that, they do not actually need to use the COVID-19 virus itself.

“Our vaccine is different,” said Strbo, “so we are not using a live or attenuated virus. Our vaccine is based on the natural protein that is present in our cells.”

The South Florida scientists are working with “Heat Biologics,” a North Carolina-based lab that would be responsible for producing a potential vaccine for clinical trials.

We spoke to the company’s CEO via Skype.

Jeff Wolf, Heat Biologics CEO, said, “No vaccine is going to be available overnight. These vaccines do take some time to develop.”

The team said their vaccine has been tested safely in clinical trials on cancer patients.

Now they hope it will one day be effective in combating a new enemy: the coronavirus.

“So what we’re doing, in a sense,” said Wolf, “is creating the soldiers to go out there and destroy the cells that are infected with the virus.”

Back at the University of Miami, the urgency for answers has researchers ramping up their efforts.

Still, speed can never be a replacement for safety when our health is on the line.

“It has to be safe,” noted Strbo, “and for safety there is no cutting corners.”

The president of China has told the United Nations that his country wants to conduct joint research and offer assistance to countries where the virus is spreading.

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