ARLINGTON, Va. — Brig. Gen. Michael Talley led a briefing at the Pentagon on Thursday to give an update on the latest work on the new coronavirus from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command.
USAMRDC, which is headquartered at Fort Detrick, oversees the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, two of the laboratories doing the coronavirus work.
“When it comes to infectious disease threats, we have extensive capabilities and an international research infrastructure already in place that allows our scientists to anticipate and develop countermeasures against emerging infectious diseases,” Talley said in his opening remarks.
Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Thursday evening as a result of the first three positive tests for the new coronavirus from thr…
Just hours after Talley and the panel spoke, Maryland announced it has three positive cases of the disease officially called COVID-19.
USAMRIID currently has a sample of the coronavirus, The News-Post previously reported. The sample came from a U.S. patient through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Talley said.
USAMRIID is working at partial operations after the laboratory received a cease and desist letter in July from the CDC. USAMRIID is at full authorization to perform at the highest-level laboratories for coronavirus if necessary, Talley said.
Currently, the coronavirus is handled in biosafety level 2 and 3 laboratories, which are at USAMRIID and Walter Reed, he said. USAMRIID is the Department of Defense’s only biosafety level 4 — the highest level — laboratory.
“We’re not there yet with the coronavirus where we would actually bring it into containment facilities’ laboratory suites,” Talley said.
The CDC also visited USAMRIID three weeks ago, as part of routine visits to assess the laboratory following the research shutdown, and allowed it to do more work, Talley said.
“Proud to say night and day difference, according to the CDC,” he said.
USAMRIID is working on replicating the virus so that there is a stock of it to use for testing, The News-Post previously reported. It is also working on characterization, which means scientists are studying the virus to see how it compares with other viruses.
There are seven known types of human coronavirus, with the ones causing COVID-19, the official name of the disease that has infected more than 95,000 people globally, severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle East respiratory syndrome fatal to people, he said. Coronaviruses can also cause the common cold.
Coronaviruses are “familiar territory” for USAMRDC units, he said. Scientists at USAMRIID and Walter Reed have done work on SARS and MERS, with Walter Reed conducting the first human trials for a MERS vaccine.
USAMRDC units are working on a vaccine candidate for the coronavirus, The News-Post previously reported. Since the genetic sequence of the coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, was released, Walter Reed scientists have been working on the vaccine candidate with interagency partners, said Dr. Kayvon Modjarrad, director of emerging infectious diseases at WRAIR.
They have completed the first phase of vaccine research, which is picking out the best design. Now, they are testing it in mice models to see the immune response to the vaccine. This step does not include testing the efficacy of the model and mice are not being injected with the coronavirus, Modjarrad said.
The vaccine will not likely be ready in the upcoming months. However, USAMRDC scientists are working on the vaccine so that it’ll be in advanced phases if the coronavirus disease becomes a seasonal virus, like the flu, and cases start appearing again in the fall and winter months.
USAMRDC units are also working on testing capacity. Talley said that the goal is to be able to run 800 tests in eight hours.