WASHINGTON -- As the country remains under COVID-19’s grip, U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command continues to combat the virus on several fronts from studying therapeutic treatments to assisting medical personnel and contributing to the national effort to develop vaccines.
The command has been developing its own COVID-19 vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed, said Col. Stuart Tyner, director of its Military Infectious Diseases Research Program. The operation is the U.S. government’s effort to produce and deliver more than 300 million doses of effective vaccines.
“We do have a vaccine that we have been working towards maturing and developing,” he said, adding that the command has collaborated with the lead companies of the initiative to help create additional vaccines or therapeutics.
In the spring, USAMRDC equipped the medical field hospitals that set up treatment stations at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.
Additionally, Army scientists stationed at labs in Thailand, Kenya and the nation of Georgia have been involved in the effort to create medical solutions against the virus’ outbreak. Scientists at the U.S. Army Medical Research Directorate-Kenya laboratory have partnered with the Kenyan government to test and monitor the effects of COVID-19 on local populations, Tyner said.
“[USAMRDC] is uniquely poised, not only to respond to the current issue with the COVID pandemic, but also to provide solutions for the warfighter in other regions of the world,” Tyner said.
The Force Health Protection division leads several efforts to deliver therapeutics for COVID-19 patients including remdesivir and convalescent plasma. Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, has been provided to more than 300 patients under an emergency use authorization.
Additionally, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity, or USAMMDA, is working to develop a PLA2 inhibitor with an industry partner, Ophirex, for COVID-19 associated Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome treatment. Numbers of ARDS sufferers increased in emergency rooms across the world following the coronavirus outbreak, according to recent medical studies.
The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and the Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases have also collaborated on the study of 40 million compounds that may have “activity” with the SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, Tyner said.
“They have unique expertise that enable [WRAIR] to assess how that [compound] works, and how it might behave just based on the structure,” he said.
To help with the research efforts, USAMRDC partnered with civilian, academic and government agencies to collect clinical data and manufacture medical solutions for COVID-19 patients, said Leigh Anne Alexander, deputy project manager for the Warfighter Expeditionary Medicine and Treatment Project Management Office, USAMMDA, USAMRDC.
Based at Fort Detrick, Maryland, USAMRDC leads six research labs and 11 subordinate commands worldwide. The command divides responsibilities for those labs based on different threats to warfighters, including COVID-19.
“The primary mission for [USAMRDC] is to develop medical solutions for the warfighter,” Tyner said. "And we do this primarily through in-house research efforts as well as development efforts with external partners. The intent being that we provide solutions for diseases or other medical problems that are an issue for the warfighter in deployed settings and regions around the world where we send our service members.”
Alexander added that the response to COVID-19 provided USAMRDC the opportunity to prepare for the constrained environments the Army expects to face in multi-domain operations, or MDO.
The COVID-19 response “is where our lessons learned are directly translatable to large combat operations in the future MDO environment with constrained supply chains that the Army is preparing for as we speak,” she said. “So for many of us we’re thinking about how do we prepare our medical capabilities?”