LAFAYETTE, La. (KLFY) — Trials on the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine were conducted on primates at UL Lafayette’s New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), the university revealed today in a press release.
“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.”
Because of confidentiality agreements with Pfizer, UL Lafayette couldn’t discuss its role in the vaccine’s development until now. A publication in the peer-reviewed journal Nature is the first public confirmation of the University’s participation in the history-making effort.
Fontenot co-authored the publication, which appeared in the journal’s online edition on Feb. 1.
Beginning last spring, rhesus macaques at NIRC were immunized as part of primate clinical trials of the vaccine. 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 animals were then transferred to a secure facility in San Antonio that can handle live, airborne infectious agents like COVID-19, as NIRC is not yet rated for that level of biosafety. The animals were monitored and then exposed to COVID-19. Results have shown the Pfizer vaccine to be 95% effective.
Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president, said the University and its researchers “were prepared to meet this moment. Few areas of life have escaped the pandemic’s effects, so to contribute to something that brings hope to the world is truly extraordinary.”
He continued: “This is what modern research universities do. ‘Research for a reason’ is a driving force for our University and there is no better motivation to do the work that we do than to help overcome a challenge like COVID-19 that has impacted all of humanity.”
The New Iberia Research Center is the nation’s largest academically affiliated, nonhuman primate research center. NIRC is home to more than 8,500 nonhuman primates.