GAITHERSBURG, Md. (ABC7) — Experts around the world are working to develop a vaccine for the new coronavirus including a local team of all women scientists in Maryland.
Each vial, bottle and tool are handled with precision and care inside the Novavax vaccine lab in Gaithersburg. Don’t let their gentle demeanor fool you, the scientists are the strength and brains behind a potential breakthrough.
“I think in science, it’s more common for women to be in the lab than the guys,” said Nita Patel.
Patel is the director for vaccine development and antibody discovery at Novavax and leads the female team working to create a viable vaccine for COVID-19.
“If this vaccine does make it to market, I know we have at least a year if not longer, knowing that it came from the hands of women, what do you think that will do for young girls who are looking into science?” asked ABC7 reporter Victoria Sanchez.
“Well, that’s encouraging for young girls to be a scientist. You know, I’m a woman and that’s really encouragement to see that somebody, women, brought the vaccine to the market. That’s awesome,” said Patel.
The company’s president of research and development said work began January 10 and the lab hasn’t closed. The virus that originated in Wuhan, China continues to spread across the globe, sickening more than 80,000 people and killing nearly 3,000.
“Our goal is to show the vaccine could work, it’s safe and try to make literally make billions of doses. So, that’s the aspiration,” explained Dr. Gregory Mark Glenn.
“Maybe in a year to 18 months, one might actually be deployable,” he said.
Though more testing needs to be done, Patel and her team already have three possible vaccines.
“We have a couple candidates that we are funneling down to make it one that will go to the human,” said Patel.
The researchers wore white lab coats, gloves and safety goggles as they worked.
“Tell me why we’re not wearing masks and gloves and all those kind of things,” asked Sanchez.
“Good question,” said Dr. Glenn. “So our vaccine technology is modern. We never touch a human infectious virus. So, all we do is recombine it, which means we get the blueprint of the virus, it’s like 3D printing, you’re printing out this structure, in case the spike protein, remember the coronavirus has these spikes that come out.”
“Like crowns,” Sanchez said.
“Exactly, just like crowns. Each of those spikes, that is how the virus will bind to a human cell. So, if we can make an immune response to that spike, we can block that infectivity,” explained Glenn.
Novavax is currently in phase two of development meaning the vaccines are being tested in animals. If things go as planned, there could be two to three phases of human trials.