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Meet the SLU department on the frontlines of coronavirus vaccine development

The team has been called upon before to help on other major outbreaks, notably with 2009's H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic and Zika in 2016
Credit: SLBJ
Dr. Daniel Hoft, foreground, is the director of Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development.

ST. LOUIS — The team at Saint Louis University's Center for Vaccine Development knows the drill.

Led by Dr. Daniel Hoft, the vaccine development operation — one of just nine elite Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEU) in the U.S. — will employ its experience from past outbreaks as it begins research on a vaccine for COVID-19.

While Hoft could not disclose specifics of the work, including what exactly the team is doing now, he did say therapeutic trials will start soon at another VTEU site and a COVID-19 vaccine trial could start in April, also at other VTEU site. A teleconference of all nine sites was held March 6.

Hoft's team has been called upon before to help on other major outbreaks, notably with 2009's H1N1 (swine flu) pandemic and Zika in 2016, as part of its status with the VTEU network.

"We refine practices and try to streamline so every time we can get better and faster," said Hoft, director of the Center for Vaccine Development. "It's a work in progress but it's worked pretty well so far."

The time and process to develop vaccines differs for each disease, but in the most urgent scenarios, SLU has been able to speed up the process. Setting up internal testing protocols can be shortened from a month to a week when necessary, and the Center for Vaccine Development can process samples from 20 or more subjects a day with increased staff and extended hours.

The center, which normally operates eight hours a day Monday through Friday, could extend hours through Saturday to handle additional work, he added.

"In times of urgency, we have other technicians that don’t necessarily work all the time with the center but are available as needed," Hoft told the Business Journal. "There is some juggling of priorities."

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