Lupe Duarte, 48, of Glendora, can name many reasons why she was excited to be the first volunteer to receive City of Hope’s investigational COVID-19 vaccine. The comprehensive cancer center recently started the phase 1 clinical trial at the main campus in Duarte, CA, demonstrating how innovative research and clinical trials have continued during the pandemic in a safe environment.
“I don’t want to get COVID, and I don’t want to be the reason the people that I care for and love get sick,” said Duarte, a transplant reporting services manager for City of Hope’s bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant program, one of the largest and most successful in the United States. Lupe is working from home and following the stay-at-home orders but there are times when she must leave the house to, for instance, take her father to medical appointments.
Another motivation is that Lupe has worked in medical research for more than 20 years and at City of Hope since 2006. She works directly with the team that is responsible for federally mandated reporting for all patients who have received a transplant at City of Hope. As another one of her job responsibilities, she supports a clinical trial sponsored by the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
“I’ve always been on the other side of the trial, and now it’s my turn to give back,” said Duarte, who is also the mother of three children. “My hope is that our amazing City of Hope researchers can add this vaccine to our long list of scientific breakthroughs.”
Lupe is a firm believer in increasing the number of Latinos and other people of color who participate in clinical trials.
“And secondly, to share the importance of vaccination so that these numbers can change, and this demographic is not so severely affected by COVID in the future,” she added.
The phase 1 clinical trial continues to enroll healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55 who have not had COVID-19. The investigational vaccine, known as COH04S1, is designed to stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies, which can block the virus from entering cells, and also spur abundant T cells that are thought to provide the elusive long-term protection against future outbreaks.
John Zaia, M.D., who is leading the clinical trial, said many people such as Lupe are willing to contribute to scientific advancements via their clinical trial participation.
“Often times, our clinical trial participants are pillars in their community and the type of people who are always willing to go an extra mile and give back to public health,” Zaia said.
Zaia noted that Lupe, for example, was one of 13 people who raised money for multiple myeloma research by hiking through Argentina’s Patagonia region, crossing over glaciers, through deep valleys, and ascending challenging peaks.
“City of Hope is extremely grateful for volunteers such as Lupe who are taking part in our COVID-19 vaccine trial as we to aim to validate the effectiveness of our own vaccine against the virus,” said Don Diamond, Ph.D., who lead the vaccine’s preclinical development and is a professor in City of Hope’s Department of Hematology and Hematopoietic Transplantation. “Without these selfless people, medical breakthroughs would simply not be possible.”