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Stephen Thomas, MD, in the new clinical research space at Community Hospital.

Upstate division leading clinical trial work on vaccines and drugs expands to Community Hospital

The Upstate Institute for Global Health and Translational Science has expanded its footprint to the Upstate Community Hospital campus, allowing the rapidly growing research enterprise to expand its work on developing life-saving vaccines and drugs.

For many years, the institute has been using the clinical research unit in the Institute for Human Performance. In about four years’ time, the institute has grown from being involved in four clinical trials or research projects a year to nearly 20 today. Eight of those projects are COVID-related with about 700 participants and several new trials scheduled to start in early 2021. Thanks to new partners, global outreach and Upstate’s success in the field, the institute has only continued to grow, necessitating more space.

The new 1,600-square-foot office is on the fourth floor of physician’s office building north (POB north) at Upstate Community Hospital, 4900 Broad Road. The newly renovated office has clinical, administrative and laboratory space. POB North is connected to a parking garage, which will be convenient for research volunteers participating in trials at that campus. Staff began seeing research volunteers there Monday, Nov. 2.

“We knew going into this year that we were going to be busier with the number of studies coming in and then with COVID starting, that created another whole opportunity for additional studies,” said Kristopher Paolino, MD, director of clinical research at the institute. “This new space will help with the workflow and the number of patients we have coming in.”

Ongoing projects at the institute involve trying to develop treatments and vaccines for dengue and researching a potential vaccine to help heroin users sustain sobriety. The demand for Upstate’s services in the field of clinical trials and research continues to grow, Paolino said. 

“We needed more space and research capacity,” said Stephen Thomas, MD, division chief of infectious disease and director of the Global Health Institute at Upstate. “We conduct a portion of our research portfolio at the Community Hospital so it made a lot of sense to establish a presence there.”

Thomas and Paolino – who worked together at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research before starting at Upstate in the fall of 2016 – said Upstate is quickly becoming a more prominent player in the field of clinical trials. Expanding the institute’s physical space will allow the program to continue to grow.

“We have more work coming in now than when I was at Walter Reed where we had 10 to 12 studies at a time,” Paolino said. “I think we’re making our way up to the upper tiers in terms of different trials that are going on but I think we still have room to grow. That’s where the new space at Community Hospital is definitely going to come into play.

“We want to show that we can do research here like some of the bigger institutions and perform high quality clinical trials.”

The nation’s attention on COVID-19 this year has contributed to more widespread awareness of the importance of clinical trials, Paolino and Thomas said. And while the world anxiously awaits a vaccine for the coronavirus, Thomas stressed that all of the institute’s work is important.

“We have a ton of very important other work,” he said. “All of these other diseases that we were working on have not gone away and in some cases have gotten worse. The substance abuse epidemic continues and CNY, travelers and our military personnel remain at risk for a number of bad diseases transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes. We still need vaccines and drugs to address these problems.”

Highlights of the Upstate Institute for Global Health and Translational Science’s work includes:

  • Dengue Human Infection Model studies and COVID Convalescent Plasma Program, by Timothy Endy, MD, MPH.
  • Multiple HIV treatment studies, by Elizabeth Asiago Reddy, MD, MS.
  • In-patient treatment studies for COVID and Bacteremia, a phase 1 COVID treatment study and Lyme diagnostic trials, by Kristopher Paolino, MD.
  • Stephen Thomas, MD, as a lead investigator on a pivotal COVID vaccine trial and bringing multiple vaccine trials across indications to Upstate.

Caption: Stephen Thomas, MD, division chief of infectious disease and director of the Global Health Institute at Upstate, stands in one of the offices at the new space at Community Hospital.