• Liliana Gutierrez

CVI Research Continues Full Steam Ahead in the Pandemic

We could not waiver on our mission to develop cancer vaccines and other immune therapies and must keep progressing our research, while adjusting to the evolving situation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented changes to all of our lives, including at the Cancer Vaccine Institute (CVI) at the University of Washington. While recognizing the enormity of the public health challenge posed by the SARS-COV-2 virus, we also know that patients will continue to be diagnosed with cancer during and after the pandemic. We could not waiver on our mission to develop cancer vaccines and other immune therapies and must keep progressing our research, while adjusting to the evolving situation. As an essential service, we have not only remained operational, but have made significant progress across our projects, while keeping our research teams safe.


In early March as the gravity of the pandemic became apparent, we received instruction from Washington State governor, Jay Inslee, that biomedical research would continue as an essential service during the lockdown. The UW Provost’s office asked the CVI and all other research laboratories to develop a plan that would allow teams to safely continue research. We promptly developed and implemented a plan, which included appropriate training and masking for our entire team. With the CVI research lab being over 10,000 sq ft, we were easily able to devise working stations for our team that were spaced well beyond the recommended six feet. Researchers and staff who do not conduct lab experiments, such as admin teams, were asked to work from home as much as possible. Clinical teams continue seeing patients in clinical trials using UW Medicine safety protocols.


With protocols in place, we have made significant progress on many of our projects and as an organization in 2020. We have revamped and streamlined our clinical trials operations so we can bring new CVI treatments to trials faster and more efficiently. Currently, we have nine ongoing clinical trials at various stages. Additionally, we have moved two breast cancer vaccines (WOKVAC and STEMVAC) into Phase II clinical trials and have made remarkable progress on the development of ovarian and colon cancer vaccines this year. We have also started trials that test novel agents, such as the small molecule Alpha-TEA for breast cancer and CAR-T cell therapy for ovarian cancer.

The world may have changed significantly this year, but we cannot afford to lose the momentum we’ve built.

We know that patients are relying on us to continue our work and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We are so grateful for the support of our community in our fight against cancer and hope for continued partnership.