Tulane center to begin research for coronavirus vaccine

Tulane center to begin research for coronavirus vaccine
On a sprawling 500-acre campus just off busy Highway 90, Covington researchers are finding solutions for the coronavirus. (Source: WVUE)

COVINGTON, La. (WVUE) - Researchers based at Tulane‘s National Primate Research Center in Covington are about to embark on a program designed to find a vaccine for coronavirus.

On a sprawling 500-acre campus just off busy Highway 90, Covington researchers are finding solutions for the coronavirus.

The outbreak has now spread to nearly 20 countries including the United States and new safety procedures are being stepped up. Dr. Jay Rappaport will lead a team that will soon receive live samples of coronavirus, so that they may begin cutting edge lab work in search of a vaccine.

“This is what our facility was billed for and what we do,” he said.

They will infect nonhuman primate species and develop an animal model of the disease. With the help of a small team of veterinarians and researchers, Dr. Rappaport hopes to develop a vaccine within the six-month time frame of the grant.

“Now we know more and with microbiology, these things can be done quickly,” Rappaport said.

This facility is heavily secured. The primate center alerted St. Tammany officials and nearby residents about the project. The biosafety lab is also being ramped up.

“This facility is highly contained with the upmost safety factors in place,” biosafety director Angie Birnbaum said.

About 10 researchers will be involved in the coronavirus project inside the 40,000 square-foot lab, which is complete with a special air system designed to make sure no virus escapes into the surrounding area.

“We recently had an extensive safety test and we have an exemplary record,” Birnbaum said.

Research findings will be put online and shared with other researchers.

“We’re all taking different species and approaches,” Rappaport said.

Whether it’s HIV or Ebola or Sars, Tulane researchers I’ve been there before and are now confident with the experience they’ve gathered over nearly 60 years of doing research here, they will succeed once more.

Lab officials say the lab, which will soon begin testing coronavirus vaccines, was recently inspected by the USDA to make sure all proper security and safety procedures are being followed. It received an exemplary rating.

St Tammany Parish President Michael Cooper issued this statement:

“Research like this is what the Tulane National Primate Research Center does every day, and their proven track record of research and bio-safety is one of the reasons they were selected for this task. While I understand the concerns residents have, I also understand that facilities like these, around the nation, play a significant role in medical advances. It would be exciting for St. Tammany if this facility, located right here in St. Tammany, made a discovery to contribute to the mitigation of the spread of the coronavirus.”

Copyright 2020 WVUE. All rights reserved.