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University of Chicago to assist with COVID-19 vaccine study

Researchers at the Hyde Park teaching hospital will assist University of Illinois at Chicago as it prepares to test 1,000 people.

COVID-19 testing area at University of Chicago Hospital, Friday, March 20, 2020. Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

University of Chicago researchers will help test people in an upcoming government-funded study of an experimental vaccine for COVID-19.

The vaccine research is being led locally by University of Illinois at Chicago, part of a nationwide 30,000-patient study. In Chicago, researchers hope to test at least 1,000 people.

Dr. David Pitrak, chief of infectious diseases and global health at University of Chicago Department of Medicine, said the Hyde Park researchers will test about half of the people in the local study.

UIC previously said Hyde Park was one of the areas where it hopes to draw volunteers for the research. A goal of the study is to recruit heavily in both African-American and Latino communities in Chicago as those populations have been disproportionately affected by the virus, said Dr. Richard Novak, who is heading the clinical trial at UIC.

More than three quarters of the University of Chicago’s service area is Black, according to the teaching hospital’s most recent community health report. UIC reports its community service area is more than one third Latino and almost 30 percent Black.

Researchers also hope to attract around 400 people 65 or older. Half of the test patients will receive the experimental vaccine developed by Massachusetts biotechnology company Moderna, while the other half will receive a non-medicated solution known as a placebo. The doctors hope to get the study under way around July 9 or just after.

UIC has already received interest from about 2,000 potential volunteers for the study, Novak said. The size of the trial is a major undertaking, he said.

“This is such a large trial, we’re happy to have their support,” Novak said of the assist from University of Chicago.

More than 6,800 people have died from the virus in Illinois. Scientists across the country are rushing to get vaccines into studies with the hope of finding an effective treatment that can be used widely by early next year.

There have been almost 50 clinical trials begun to test possible treatments for the coronavirus across the city, according to a government website. The Moderna trial will be the first COVID-19 vaccine tested in Chicago.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.