COVID-19 CRI­SIS:

Wicklow People (West Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - By AMY MOL­LOY

■ Lo­cal man leads n charge for vac­cine

■ Bank branches n close tem­po­rar­ily

■ Rose se­lec­tion n post­poned to July

■ Huge re­sponse n to Meals on Wheels ap­peal

■ Dr Ciara Kelly’s n Covid-19 di­ary

■ Top tips for n exam stu­dents

■ A mes­sage of n hope from China

IT’S 5.45am in Boston and Bray na­tive Dr David Dowl­ing is al­ready a few hours into his work­ing day.

On top of his day job try­ing to make vac­cines to fight two of the big­gest pan­demics wit­nessed in the past 100 years, the Dublin City Univer­sity grad­u­ate is now also a stay-at-home dad.

Schools and child­care cen­tres in Amer­ica have closed as a re­sult of the rapid spread of Covid-19, and now Dr Dowl­ing is hav­ing to bal­ance de­vel­op­ing a vac­cine, so­cial dis­tanc­ing and mind­ing his two chil­dren.

‘I got up at 2.45am, I’ll work un­til about 11.45am and then I’ve to go home and look af­ter my kids - I’m do­ing the early shift and my wife, who is also a sci­en­tist, will do the late shift,’ he said.

Dr Dowl­ing is a re­search as­so­ciate with the pre­ci­sion vac­cine pro­gramme at Boston Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal and an in­struc­tor at Har­vard Med­i­cal School.

The 37-year-old grad­u­ated from DCU with a de­gree in biotech­nol­ogy in 2005 and went on to ob­tain a PhD there in im­munol­ogy, vac­ci­nol­ogy and par­a­sitol­ogy in 2009.

‘I fin­ished my PhD at a time when the fi­nan­cial world im­ploded and that meant I was told there were no jobs for me in Ire­land, but I got two job of­fers in Har­vard and Yale,’ he said.

‘I was liv­ing through the

Celtic Tiger years on a wage of around €14,000 while ev­ery­one around me was build­ing houses. It was bizarre... my life seems to be shaped by geopo­lit­i­cal dis­as­ters.’

About nine months ago, his team at Boston Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal re­ceived a €10m fed­eral gov­ern­ment grant to help de­velop an in­fluenza vac­cine for el­derly peo­ple and chil­dren.

How­ever, the Co Wick­low man had been keep­ing a close watch on coro­n­avirus de­vel­op­ments in China, and three months ago his team got gov­ern­ment ap­proval to turn it into a dual project.

There are now dozens of projects worldwide work­ing around the clock to cre­ate a coro­n­avirus vac­cine, but Dr Dowl­ing is co-lead­ing a project which is specif­i­cally tar­get­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble in so­ci­ety - the el­derly.

Older peo­ple and those with pre-ex­ist­ing med­i­cal con­di­tions are more vul­ner­a­ble to be­com­ing se­verely ill with Covid-19, ac­cord­ing to the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

To­gether with Dr Ofer Levy, di­rec­tor of the pre­ci­sion vac­cines pro­gramme at the hospi­tal, Dr Dowl­ing is de­sign­ing a coro­n­avirus vac­cine that uses spe­cial mol­e­cules to boost the im­mune sys­tem.

The coro­n­avirus gets its name be­cause each cell is cov­ered with spiky for­ma­tions that make it look like a crown, or in Latin ‘corona’. Th­ese are called spike pro­teins.

The vac­cine will use the virus’s spike pro­tein along with known vac­cine ad­ju­vants - small­molecules that in­crease a pa­tient’s im­mune re­sponse.

He and Dr Levy’s team have taken blood sam­ples from pa­tients aged between 65 and 93, are sep­a­rat­ing their white blood cells and test­ing dif­fer­ent ad­ju­vants to see which work best. The unique vac­cine will build on vac­cines from prior coro­n­avirus out­breaks and work to make them more ef­fec­tive.

‘I reached out to Dr Peter Hotez at Texas Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal and we got his Sars anti­gen from the 2003 out­break,’ Dr Dowl­ing said.

‘He made a vac­cine and never got it all the way into clin­i­cal tri­als and ran out of fund­ing as it [Sars] wasn’t an is­sue any more.

‘So us­ing the cur­rent Sars vac­cine and mix­ing it with our best ad­ju­vant, we hope it can make a dif­fer­ence.’

As for a time­line on when the vac­cine may be ready, Dr Dowl­ing says it largely de­pends on fund­ing.

‘I spent 12 hours fill­ing out a grant ap­pli­ca­tion for this coro­n­avirus project, when that time could be spent far more prac­ti­cally,’ he said.

Dr Dowl­ing thinks de­vel­op­ing a vac­cine is im­per­a­tive, as he be­lieves coro­n­avirus could be­come a sea­sonal virus.

‘I do be­lieve that it may have been cir­cu­lat­ing for a long time and has only come to the fore­front now,’ he said.

‘Right now we are head­ing to­wards the peak of it, peo­ple are so­cial dis­tanc­ing and we’ll see it re­lax com­ing into sum­mer, but there is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity it could come back again in win­ter.

‘That’s why we have to keep work­ing and can’t take time off. I have great con­fi­dence in my col­leagues and the US gov­ern­ment that we can push through to de­velop a vac­cine.’

I’M DO­ING THE EARLY SHIFT AND MY WIFE, WHO IS ALSO A SCI­EN­TIST, WILL DO THE LATE SHIFT

Dr David Dowl­ing, Project Man­ager of the Ad­ju­vant Dis­cov­ery Pro­gramme and Dr Ofer Levy, Di­rec­tor of Pre­ci­sion Vac­cines at Boston Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal.

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