Vaccine researchers are trying new methods to recruit the tens of thousands of healthy volunteers needed to finish testing coronavirus vaccines in late stages of development, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Researchers are taking unusual steps, such as recruiting at pharmacies, enlisting churches in searches for participants, are also rolling out algorithms to target recruitment in places at risk of COVID-19.
"We not only have to find the number of volunteers, but they need to be in an area where the virus is currently spreading, otherwise you learn nothing about the effectiveness of the vaccine," said National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins, adding that the NIH trial networks that have previously been used for HIV or tuberculosis and are being adapted and the government has created software that analyses the network availability with COVID-19 community spread.
The US federal government is planning to fund three 30,000-person trials starting this summer, including Moderna's vaccine starting this month, followed in August by a vaccine co-developed by University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and a vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson in September, while Oxford’s vaccine recently began late-stage testing outside the US, and Pfizer and partner BioNTech plan to start their own 30,000-person trial this month.
"One volunteer cannot be in two different studies. It’s a zero-sum game in that regard," said Joseph Kim, chief executive of Inovio Pharmaceuticals, which recently announced positive results in a small study and is preparing for a larger study.
Sanofi, which plans to begin clinical testing its first COVID-19 vaccine as early as September, is using algorithms and artificial intelligence to anticipate hot spots around the world where it can recruit patients, with Sanjay Gurunathan, who oversees the company's vaccine trials, noting that "I am concerned that if you don't choose the right sites and we don’t make the right predictions, we may not have successful studies."
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