With major HHS grant, Colorado State University moving forward with COVID-19 vaccine research

Posted at 10:58 PM, Jun 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-29 07:29:59-04

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A new COVID-19 vaccine being studied by Colorado State University has been backed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The university was granted nearly $700,000 by the department to study what it is calling SolaVAX, using UV-light and a substance called riboflavin.

"The way I describe it to some people is that what we are doing is essentially scrambling the egg while it is still in the shell," explained Ray Goodrich, the Executive Director of Infectious Disease Research at CSU. "We are disrupting the nucleic acids that are inside this protein covering that part of the virus. But we are leaving the protein covering intact in its natural state as we can possibly achieve."

The treatment has been used for decades in blood transfusions, but now it is being applied to COVID-19 vaccines.

"Just seeing it, you just felt like there is a chance that we can get this under control really quickly. So sharing the news with everybody just got everyone super excited," said Dr. Izabela Ragan, who studies infectious diseases at Colorado State University. "We have all been working really, really hard, going as fast as we can. It just looks really, really exciting and we just want to get it out there."

The study has been in full-gear since March. But researchers working on the project say there is still a long way to go.

"With this funding that we received, we are finally to the starting line. Now it is time to run the marathon," said Ragan. "To actually be in a pandemic and in real-time coming up with vaccines, treatments, tests is very new to all of us."

But researchers believe this testing could lead to a breakthrough for COVID-19 vaccines, and potentially other highly-infectious diseases in the future.

"The approach, the platform that we are using is something that may work today, for addressing COVID-19, but also has potential for preparing vaccines for other diseases," explained Goodrich. "Both existing diseases that have been difficult to develop vaccines for, as well as new emerging diseases."