Texas Biomed creating variant-specific COVID-19 treatments

This comes as news of a variant specific vaccine is being developed by Pfizer

SAN ANTONIO – Pfizer announced Tuesday it is starting trials to create a vaccine specific to the omicron COVID-19 variant. Closer to home, Texas Biomedical Research Institute is developing a treatment that also targets a specific variant.

“They’re specifically targeting the omicron because many people are now becoming infected,” said Dr. Tracey Baas, innovations manager for Texas Biomedical Research Institute and manager of the Vaccine Development Center of San Antonio.

While omicron cases are surging, there is good news. A study released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows cases are not as severe as with previous variants.

In fact, 13% of people infected with omicron are hospitalized compared to 18% with the delta variant.

“The vaccines that are currently out there are protecting people from hospitalization and serious disease,” Dr. Baas said.

Despite that, Pfizer announced today they’ll begin testing a COVID-19 shot targeting the omicron variant in adults.

Baas said it’s a smart move because it allows us to be prepared for what could come next.

“Want to be prepared for what might be coming, even though that doesn’t come to fruition. They want to be prepared for that option if people really need that new dose to combat the omicron,” she said.

Baas said it’s similar to what happens with the flu shot each year. Scientists are constantly trying to prepare for the next strain.

“This is going to be another tool to put in the toolbox and be ready to pull out when you need that,” she said.

Texas Biomed is using that variant-specific mindset to develop a new monoclonal antibody treatment with Aridis Pharmaceuticals.

“There is a new piece in this cocktail that does target the omicron,” Baas said.

Unlike other monoclonal antibody treatments, two of which were limited in use today by the FDA, this new treatment would specifically cover and treat the omicron variant.

“It targets a piece of the virus that the virus cannot really modify because it’s super important to the virus in order to function so it can’t mutate in that area. It has to hold steady,” Baas said.

Right now, that monoclonal antibody treatment is still in the preclinical stage, so Baas isn’t sure when it will be ready for use.

Something else that makes it unique is that it could be self-administered similarly to an inhaler. That would eliminate the need to take up hospital or clinic space, and you wouldn’t need an IV.

About the Authors:

Leigh Waldman is a news reporter at KSAT 12. She joined the station in 2021. Leigh comes to San Antonio from the Midwest after spending time at a station in Omaha, NE. After two winters there, she knew it was time to come home to Texas. When Leigh is not at work, she enjoys eating, playing with her dogs and spending time with family.

Joe Arredondo is a photojournalist at KSAT 12.