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Dr Thomas speaks to media

Upstate’s Dr. Stephen Thomas is tapped as lead principal investigator for Pfizer/BioNTech global phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has announced SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Stephen Thomas, MD, was appointed the lead principal investigator for the world-wide Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine trial, which is showing a more than 90 percent efficacy in preventing COVID-19. Upstate serves as one of the global phase three vaccine trial locations.

“New York’s medical experts are second to none and from the very beginning of this pandemic, we have relied on their vast knowledge and expertise to inform our response. I'm glad Pfizer is doing the same," Cuomo said. “It’s great news that Pfizer/BioNTech is seeing positive results from its vaccine trial, and I'm proud one of New York's foremost infectious disease experts has been selected to lead its worldwide vaccine trial. On behalf of the family of New York I would like to thank Dr. Thomas for his work fighting this invisible enemy.”

As the lead principal investigator, Thomas, Upstate's Chief of Infectious Disease, will support Pfizer and BioNTech as they prepare vaccine trial data for submission to regulatory agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to happen later this month.

SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras said, “This is the second major COVID-19-related research news coming out of Upstate Medical following the FDA approved pooled surveillance testing for the virus, and it serves as a reminder of the expertise within SUNY to help solve for major issues impacting our society. Each of us have a role to play in fighting off this pandemic, from wearing masks and staying socially distanced, as the vast majority of our students do; to equipping our campuses based on data and science to protect students, faculty, and staff; to PPE production; and research capabilities. Dr. Thomas, Dr. Frank Middleton, among so many others at SUNY are at the forefront of medical innovation, and they serve as inspiration to our students and their peers.”

SUNY Upstate Medical President Dr. Mantosh Dewan said, “Dr. Stephen Thomas’s international leadership role as lead principal investigator on the Pfizer/BioNTech global phase 3 clinical trial for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate is a source of pride for all of us. He and the work of his colleagues here at Upstate and across the globe on this vaccine trial are having a dramatic impact on how we will prevail over this pandemic.”

SUNY Upstate Medical Chief of Infectious Disease Dr. Stephen Thomas said, “The Upstate team has worked incredibly hard to support Pfizer and their partners as we all try to find ways to stop this pandemic. This hard work combined with the outpouring of support from our CNY community has put in a position to be great contributors to the COVID vaccine develop effort.”

As one of the global phase three vaccine trial sites, Upstate has enrolled more than 300 adult volunteers in the trial. The study of the vaccine candidate in younger volunteers will begin soon, with Upstate being selected again as one of a few sites.

This announcement is the second for Upstate this fall about COVID-19 related research. Upstate, under the leadership of Frank Middleton, PhD, and Quadrant Biosciences received New York State Department of Health and FDA approval for their pooled surveillance testing and individual saliva swab test. Both the individual test and the pooled test can be done using saliva swabs rather than by swabs inserted in a person’s nose.

Individuals administer the tests themselves by swabbing their mouths and providing the saliva samples, which are sent to Upstate Medical. Their samples are combined into one and tested for the COVID-19 virus. A negative test means that all 10-25 people in the group are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free. A positive test for the pool would mean each individual saliva sample within the pool would need to be tested again individually to pinpoint exact positive cases. The rapid retesting does not require people in the positive pool to return to submit an entirely new sample. This greatly accelerates the process and expands testing capacity.

Upstate's saliva test allows SUNY to process up to 200,000 COVID tests per week. To date, SUNY has conducted 378,488 COVID-19 tests on campuses with a positive rate of 0.47 percent.

Caption: Stephen Thomas, MD, is professor and chief of Infectious Disease at Upstate.