If the COVID-19 pandemic has spread to every inch of the United States, so have efforts to develop medical treatments to combat the virus — even in Anniston.
Pinnacle Research Group has been in Anniston for more than two decades, working with pharmaceutical companies to carry out studies of new drugs, treatments and therapies. Now Pinnacle is set to carry out a clinical trial to test an antibody therapy that might lessen COVID’s effects on patients.
“There’s a worldwide effort going on, and we’re a part of it,” said Darin Sims, Pinnacle’s co-founder.
The study is sponsored by San Francisco-based Vir Biotechnology, and the research group is looking for local COVID patients to participate.
According to Sims, participants selected for the trial should be in the early stages of infection. They will receive “human-derived COVID-19 antibody therapy,” or treatments that stem from the antibodies generated by people who have already survived the virus.
“When the body is exposed to a virus, it develops antibodies to it, and then the antibodies recognize that specific virus and if they ever see it again, they will fight it,” Sims said. “Otherwise they’re on standby, waiting for something to do.”
Patients given the treatment will effectively receive a regimen of trained antibodies to reinforce their own immune systems, which may help minimize the effects of the virus, Sims explained.
The upcoming study will be Pinnacle’s second foray into researching treatments for COVID-19. The first began in late July, working with patients at Regional Medical Center in Anniston and testing medication to reduce overactive immune system responses to the virus, which can create issues like fever, difficulty breathing and fatigue.
Sims said he contracted COVID-19 himself around the time the first study began, which gave him and his staff an uncommon level of insight into their work.
Sims said he had expected his bout with the coronavirus to be brief, given that he “went into it as fit and healthy as a person could be,” but the virus took around three weeks to pass.
“I had gastric symptoms, fever, headache, my lungs hurt, my body ached, I lost my sense of smell … in a way it was like the flu, but worse, and really, really persistent,” Sims said. “But it was helpful to inform the nature of this virus we’re studying, from a research standpoint.”
Other members of the research team are hands-on with the virus, though maybe not like Sims. Dr. Almena Free, a physician at RMC and a member of Pinnacle’s research team, worked directly with patients in the original clinical trial.
Many patients were “interested because they want to help the research and help somebody else down the line,” said Free, who is also a frequent speaker during Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency broadcasts about the pandemic.
In Free’s own experience, she said, the trials allow her to use new kinds of treatments and care, including medications that aren’t yet on the market.
Sims noted that the trials may make a difference in developing better tools for holding off the worst effects of COVID, and that Pinnacle is likely to participate in more research in the coming months.
One likely trial will include the use of antiviral medication, and there may eventually be vaccine testing when one has been developed, he said.
Each of those studies needs local patient volunteers, he said.
“Drug companies can design fantastic medications that may do great things and we can be here, but if we can’t find any patients, it all comes to naught,” Sims said. “They really are the key component of the whole thing.”