COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to drop at Texas Medical Center hospitals, with numbers down 18% from a week ago, according to the medical center’s Aug. 21 data dashboard.

The medical center reported fewer than 1,000 COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, 217 fewer than compared to a week ago.

Total intensive care unit beds in use also dipped to 1,328 as the number ICU patients with COVID-19 continued their decline, down to 363 from the 450 patients Texas Medical Center reported Aug. 14. This is below the 1,330-bed threshold that necessitates additional staffing and beds, as outlined in the medical center’s Phase 2 plan.

Data collected by the TMC spans hospitals in nine counties in Greater Houston, including Austin, Brazoria, Chambers, Fort Bend, Galveston, Harris, Liberty, Montgomery, and Waller.

Meanwhile, TMC hospitals reported close to 2,500 COVID-19 tests were performed Aug. 19, with the positivity rate down to 7.5%, down from its peak at 23% on July 9.

UT Health to help investigate efficacy of convalescent plasma for COVID-19

Physician-scientists with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston will join a team exploring whether convalescent plasma infusions can prevent the progression of COVID-19, according to an Aug. 18 news release from the University of Texas Health Science Center.

In one of the first randomized clinical trials in the country, the Houston scientists will partner with their Tyler-based colleagues as part of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science, which will participate in the study established by New York University and Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Funding comes from an $8 million grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Science.

Few randomized trials have been undertaken to show efficacy of convalescent plasma therapy, which takes antibody-containing blood plasma from those who have recovered from COVID-19 and infuses it into patients fighting the viral disease.

“Physicians have been using convalescent plasma to try to save patients during the pandemic, knowing that it is safe, but not knowing if it really works,” said co-investigator Dr. Luis Ostrosky, a professor of medicine and epidemiology and vice chair of health care quality with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, in the release. “A randomized, placebo-controlled trial is the standard to assess efficacy of an intervention.”

The trial will enroll 400 patients locally at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, as well as UTHealth in Houston and Tyler.

Baylor College of Medicine inks licensing agreement for COVID-19 vaccine candidate

India-based biopharmaceutical company Biological E. Limited has licensed a COVID-19 vaccine under development by Baylor College of Medicine, the research hospital announced Aug. 13.

Biological E. Limited has licensed the recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate through negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, part of Baylor College of Medicine, after initial discussions on Baylor’s technology and how it could possibly inform a vaccine to address the current global pandemic.

The biopharmaceutical company, which has supplied other vaccines to over 100 countries since its founding in 1953, will be able to globalize the vaccine once it is completed, according to the Baylor announcement.

Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi are co-leading the team working on developing the vaccine, which draws from experience the team gained between 2011 and 2016 when developing the SARS vaccine. The Baylor team is using time-saving, parallel and rapid-switch strategies as well as critical scientific information that may help accelerate the development of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine remains in preclinical trials with no timeline yet set as to when it will enter clinical trials, according to the Milken Institute, which tracks over 200 vaccines worldwide in development.