Small Town Playing Big Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Research

Small Town Playing Big Role in COVID-19 Vaccine Research

Norman, Oklahoma, started as a tent city in 1889, and it was named after Santa Fe Railway surveyor Aubrey Norman. In 1890, Norman’s citizens donated the land where the University of Oklahoma was established, thus ensuring that the city would thrive. Currently, the estimated population is about 124,880 folks. Norman is home to a research site for the Oklahoma City based Lynn Health Science Institute, known as the Lynn Institute or Institutes. The Lynn Institutes are named for Dr. Thomas N. Lynn, a leader in medicine in Oklahoma. In 1995, after being director of research at Baptist Medical Center in Oklahoma, the program he created was moved to a new nonprofit research institute named in honor of Dr. Lynn. 

Lynn Institute of Norman Seeks to Combine Research with Care for Underserved

Lynn Institute has become a new leader in bringing drugs to market via its clinical trial programs. They have conducted over 800 trials while working with Pharma firms and other research organizations. While Oklahoma City is corporate HQ, specific independent sites include Lynn Institute of the Rockies in Colorado Springs; Lynn Institute of Denver serving a metro area of 2.7 million people; Lynn Institute of the Ozarks in Little Rock, Arkansas; and the Lynn Institute of Norman (LION Research), which was started to bring clinical trials to a rural population. LION serves about a population of 650,000 focused in the southern part of the state. And LION partnered with community clinics like Health for Friends to help provide medical care to both underserved and at-risk persons.

Norman Home to COVID-19 Vaccine Research

Now, the Norman Transcript weighs in on the small town’s role in COVID-19 research. Under Operation Warp Speed, the Lynn Institute was chosen to run trials on both Moderna and Pfizer vaccine candidates. The Moderna trial is based in Oklahoma City, while the Pfizer trial is headquartered in Norman. Carlos Blanco lives in the town; he also is VP of a Lynn subsidiary and is due to become CEO on November 1. “I really want to convey that these trials are not being rushed, they are being done in exactly the same manner as any other clinical trial,” Blanco offered. “Unfortunately, the COVID trials have been politicized quite a bit and that’s unfortunate because it’s causing people to distrust the very system that we’ve had in place for over 50 years now.”

FDA Rules Direct Process

Combined, the Moderna and Pfizer trials have about 30,000 patients. “It’s a three-step process where you have to pass each step while making sure it’s safe to move to the next step,” said Blanco. “Then, after your phase three trial, the pharmas will then take that data and present it to the for them to approve, reject or tell them to go back and get some more data.” He goes, on, “Once we have recruited the patients, this protocol tells us what to collect; vital signs, we draw blood to make sure the patients are safe and doing well and our physicians are always monitoring their health through our labs and through physical exams. … That data that we have is entered electronically into databases and the companies have real time tracking of how the trial is going and how the vaccine is doing”.

Blanco Encourages Minority Enrollment

Blanco is a Cuban immigrant, and he says that he encourages minorities to partake in clinical trials. “I always try to encourage folks in the Hispanic community to participate because we’re getting left behind in clinical trials,” Blanco opined. “African Americans are getting left behind in clinical trials; Native Americans are getting left behind because we just don’t have enough participants from our minority communities.”