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Finding a Cure: ARCS Member Joins Global Race to Develop COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2020

ARCS Foundation member and infectious disease expert Dr. Rhea Coler has joined in the global effort to find a vaccine for COVID-19. An investigator in the National Institutes of Health’s Infectious Disease Clinical Research Consortium (IDCRC), she and a team of researchers are responsible for blood processing and clinical immunology assays, or tests, to evaluate immune responses in vaccinated candidates.

Coler says her team is in the third and final phase of the COVID-19 vaccine trial. They are currently enrolling people aged 56 to 70, and 71 and older to participate in an evaluation of how a healthy adult’s immune system responds to the vaccine to confirm that it is effective in humans.

“The hope is that we will have a vaccine ready for deployment in the first quarter of 2021 … but that is not in any way guaranteed,” she says. “That projection date will be refined as time goes on. This aggressive timeline assumes that everything goes smoothly from this point forward, but safety cannot be compromised.”

The work to create an effective and safe vaccine for COVID-19 has been an effort on behalf of scientists and pharmaceutical companies worldwide. This collaboration, combined with increased access to funding, improves the medical research community’s chances of finding a cure, according to Coler.

COVID-19 is not Coler’s first encounter with infectious disease. She grew up on the island nation of Trinidad, where, Coler notes, infectious disease outbreaks are a common part of Caribbean living. 

Her work with clinical trials of therapeutic vaccines has resulted in three patents with three startup technology companies. She has also published more than 90 peer-reviewed articles.

In addition to COVID-19, Coler and her team are characterizing immune responses induced by several vaccines for infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis and nontuberculous mycobacteria.

“Our future goals are to continue contributing to the global health field by providing insights and solutions,” Coler says.

To that end, the ARCS pillar goal to promote scientific advancement in the United States drew her to join ARCS Foundation Seattle Chapter in 2018.

“I have been so impressed by ARCS leadership, vision, and mission,” Coler says. “I have enjoyed learning more about the scholars and programs at Washington State University and University of Washington. ARCS is such an incredible organization.”

Coler served on the University Relations and Long-Range Planning Committees in the Seattle Chapter. Her work, alongside fellow ARCS Board members, resulted in the implementation of “Strategy on a Page” (SOAP), a process that will chart the future course for the Seattle Chapter through stimulating discussions and decisions related to membership, relationships, resource development, and strategic priority.

Coler received a PhD from University of Washington, a master of science from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and a bachelor of science from McGill University.

She is also an Affiliate Professor at University of Washington in the Department of Global Health, where she mentors emerging leaders in the field.

Follow this link to view a short video about Dr. Coler’s research to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.  

Dr. Rhea Coler