University of Louisiana at Lafayette primate center played role in developing coronavirus vaccine

BY KRISTIN ASKELSON | STAFF WRITER

Trials involving primates at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center were instrumental in development of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a UL news release issued Wednesday. 

“We are so privileged to have been on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic,” said Jane Fontenot, NIRC’s director of contract research. “It’s very rewarding.”

The United Kingdom was the first nation to issue an emergency authorization for the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. The United States, the European Union and other countries soon followed suit. Studies have shown that the vaccine is about 95% effective at preventing COVID-19 after two doses.

Beginning last spring, rhesus macaques at NIRC were immunized as part of clinical trials of the vaccine, according to the release. Staff administered vaccines, collected samples and observed the animals “for any signs of problems,” Fontenot said. “That included evidence of pain, elevated temperatures, loss of appetite — any symptoms that may have raised concern about tolerability.”

The vaccinated animals were then transferred to the Southwest National Primate Center in San Antonio, which includes a biosafety level 3 facility that can securely handle live, airborne infectious agents such as COVID-19. NIRC is a biosafety level 2 facility, though UL is seeking funds to bring it up to level 3 status.

In Texas, the rhesus macaques underwent the challenge phase of the trial in which they were exposed to COVID-19. Results showed the vaccine offered protection from the virus.

NIRC has a long history of contract testing on primates for private drug companies at its sprawling 100-acre campus. With more than 8,500 animals, it’s the largest primate … Continue Reading >>>


Excerpt from University Research Showcase: New Iberia Research Center

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