Fort Detrick

Army researchers at Fort Detrick who helped discover Ebola treatment seek coronavirus vaccine

Army researchers at Fort Detrick are fast at work growing batches of COVID-19 to help test treatment options and eventually find a coronavirus vaccine. “They take some of the virus and put it onto cells,” Dr. Kathleen Gibson, a core laboratory services division chief at the U.S. Army’s Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases [USAMRIID], explained through a triple-glass window as Army researchers wearing protective gear worked with the deadly virus. “They look for the virus that will actually kill portions of the cells and they’ll count those killed portions.” These are the same army scientists who helped develop vaccines for anthrax, the plague and Ebola. Now, they have been working double shifts growing large amounts of the COVID-19 virus at this sprawling lab complex. “We have more capacity to run more studies at the same time,” Col. E. Darrin Cox, the commander of USAMRIID, explained. “We can be running things in parallel rather than having to do things sequentially, and that’s helped speed up the process of the science.” Fort Detrick has one of the country’s few labs with biosafety level 4-specialized equipment, allowing researchers to work on the most deadly viruses. It’s taken two weeks to grow a lot of COVID-19. Fort Detrick received its first vial of the virus from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] a month ago. Its scientists have started the genetic sequencing of the virus, using machines capable of fast, large-scale drug testing as well. “We have a large capacity to be able to test a very large number of products. Most other places don’t have that infrastructure to be able to develop or test as many products at a time,” according to Dr. John Dye, the USAMRIID viral immunology chief. “There are at least eight different companies that are developing vaccines that all can be assessed looking for safety in humans… Having multiple shots on goal is our best chance of being able to basically battle this virus.” Army researchers have shot compounds such as chloroquine into vials of COVID-19 to see how it’s reacted. “We can test about 300 drugs or compounds in each plate,” Dr. Sheli Radoshitzky said. “We add the compounds using this robotic system and then we transfer the plates into bio-containment where we add the virus.” Since 1969, this warren of Army research labs known as USAMRIID has served as the Defense Department’s lead laboratory for medical biological defense research. It has worked with biotech firms such as Gilead to discover drugs including Remdesivir — an antiviral to fight Ebola — which may work on COVID-19. USAMRIID has worked with the CDC, National Institutes of Health [NIH] and private drug companies to bring these drugs to market. This past December, a vaccine for Ebola produced in conjunction with Merck received its license, a key step in Food and Drug Administration [FDA] approval. It was several years in the making, but these Army labs found the key particle that led to the discovery Men and women in these hallways were some of the first boots on the ground during the first Ebola outbreak. The Army scientists working with COVID-19 have used level 3 gear because the virus is less lethal than Ebola, but still highly contagious.

Major kudos to the men and women at Fort Detrick, MD for literally putting their lives on the line every day searching for a vaccine for this Wuhan virus.  We can all take comfort in knowing these folks are the best in the world at what they do, and they WILL find a cure.  It’s just a matter of when.  For more on this story, click on the text above.