DM Clinical Research, a Tomball research center located on Medical Complex Drive, has begun testing a coronavirus vaccine on patients in the Greater Houston area.

Fredric Santiago, an investigator and internal medicine specialist for the trials, said in a July 9 interview the trials are currently in Phase 3 and being funded by pharmaceutical companies.

“Phase 3 is the last step before general marketing of the vaccine,” he said. “Phase 4 is the post-marketing phase and sold to the public.”

Santiago said DM Clinical was chosen not only for its reputation and history of working on vaccine trials and drugs, but because of its location as well.

“Some of it has to do with the infection rate and activity of COVID[-19] in this area,” he said.

Although the vaccine is in Phase 3 of its trials, Santiago said getting it to the public depends on results of the trials and could last anywhere from three to 12 months.

If the results of the trials are going well within the first three to six months, Santiago said it could be given out to the public. However, if results are poor it could result in ending the trials.

“Does one shot provide lasting immunity? Or do you need a booster? Or do you have to have it redone every year because the virus is changing its genetic makeup?” he said. “Those are the questions that are going to be answered as a result of this study.”

The vaccine does not contain the novel coronavirus, Santiago said; instead, it is a novel particle that makes the body create antibodies to attack the virus.

One of purposes of the study is to identify those who are at higher risk of exposure to the coronavirus and those who are at risk of suffering complications if exposed to the virus.

Santiago said DM Clinical Research is currently looking for volunteers who fit into the two categories of people who are at a higher risk of exposure—such as health care workers, first responders, families of first responders, and those who do not follow health and safety guidelines such as wearing a mask—and those who are part of the at-risk population for suffering complications, such as the elderly.

A stipend of just over $1,000 will be given to volunteers who are chosen for the trials to get a wider range of people, Santiago said.

“Participating in a study like this has costs associated with it ... you may have to travel here or pay for a babysitter,” he said. “If you don’t help people with [those costs], you will only get people in the study who can afford to be here.”

Santiago said researchers need people from all socioeconomic levels and diverse backgrounds to prove the vaccine works across the general population.

“We have gotten behind the curve in trying to control COVID[-19] in this country and around the planet because of its tendency to be highly infectious," he said. “In order to get back to normal, we are going to have to be able to control this bug. ... The major way to do that is to develop a vaccine that would either limit how serious[ly] the infection occurs in a person in the future, or either decrease the chances of dying from it.”

Santiago said DM Clinical Research is actively trying to recruit as many people from the community as possible to participate to get ahead of the virus.

“It has disrupted everything, and the sooner we can get on top of this infection and return to normal the better everyone [will be],” he said.