As the whole world now focuses on getting vaccinated against COVID19, Kagay-anons will be proud to know that a compatriot is part of the research team in the United Kingdom that is working hard on developing the Novavax vaccine.
Louies Andrew Mabelin, 31 years old and a Kagay-anon, is a senior oncology research nurse at the East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, involved in the Phase 3 double-blinded randomized trial of the Novavax vaccine, which is the last stage of the study before a vaccine, if successful, will be released.
He is part of the team that administers investigational product on test groups and monitors them for side-effects. The double-blinded study is a trial in which participants and researchers do not know who receives the experimental medicine or the placebo.
Before COVID19, Andew’s research mainly focused on studying cancer but it was paused as the world pivoted to developing vaccines in order to fight the pandemic.
“The oncology studies were put on hold,” he explained. “The focus and the priority shifted to COVID.”
Andrew is also part of the Recovery Trial being spearheaded by Oxford University and the Siren Clinical trial in the UK.
The Recovery Trial, the biggest one in the world, is conducting tests to determine which drug can best help COVID patients recover.
“So far, the steroid dexamethasone has shown promising results in helping reduce the mortality rate in patients requiring ventilation or oxygen,” he said.
The Siren Clinical trial takes swabs and serums from patients infected with COVID19 to determine whether someone who has recovered from the virus will acquire immunity to it.
Andrew studied grade one at Kong Hua School. His family lived on 17th Street Nazareth with his grandmother he fondly calls “Lola Pacing.”
At the age of seven, his father, Edwin, and mother, Eflieda, left Cagayan de Oro and moved the family to Tacloban. “My Dad found a job that was based in Cebu City and Negros, and Tacloban was closer to these two places than Cagayan de Oro,” he said.
The COVID vaccine is not Andrew’s first work with vaccine research. After getting his nursing degree from St. Scholastica’ College in Tacloban and passing the board exam, he was hired by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the national referral center for infectious diseases, as a clinical research nurse, primarily involved in the testing of the Dengvaxia vaccine. The dengue vaccine became a national controversy when some children died after being inoculated.
Andrew oversaw the vaccination and the monitoring for side effects during the trial. His team conducted home and school visits as well to ensure the welfare of the trial participants. They did not encounter any problem.
He stands by the results of their research. “We tested over 10,000 children participants in Asia and none of them had deaths related to the vaccine during the trial,” he said. He read the news about the scandal in disbelief because it did not align with the result of their tests. “No untoward incident occurred during the trial,” he stressed.
Andrew stayed with the RITM for 1.5 years and moved on to a Pharmacovigilance Company, Sciformix Philippines Inc., in Pasig City as a Drug Safety Analyst. He was among the pioneers of the company when it opened in 2012. It was later acquired by a big clinical research organization, Covance. He worked there for four years before immigrating to the UK.
He loves his work as a research scientist. “I cannot imagine myself doing anything else,” he said. “The satisfaction I get from research is different. I told my fiancée that research is my baby.”
The rush to develop the Novavax vaccine has put pressure on research practitioners. They work 10 to 12 hours a day including weekends and evenings.
Prizer and Moderna vaccines got out of the gate first because they started their clinical trials earlier. The Novavax vaccine, however, is easier to store as it only requires to 2 to 8 degrees Celsius compared to Pfizer’s minus 70 degrees Celsius, and Moderna’s minus 20 Celsius. Novavax is protein-based combined with a plant compound and uses the conventional form of vaccines rather than the mRNA technology.
Andrew has fond memories of Cagayan de Oro. He remembers his mother taking him to Gaston Park during Christmas when each barangay showcased their Christmas trees. “I love Xavier University,” he said. He was planning to return to Cagayan de Oro in 2011 to study medicine at the university but changed the plan when he was offered the research job in Manila.
He was one semester away from finishing his master’s degree in Psychology at the Lyceum of the Philippines- Manila when he had to leave for the UK. Now, he plans to pursue a master’s degree in clinical research in his new country.
As to his personal opinion on when he expects the world to emerge from the pandemic, he said it will happen when everyone will get vaccinated.
Annie Gorra is the author of City of Gold: People Who Made their Home and History in Cagayan de Oro, and The Mystery on 17th Street. Both are available on Amazon. (Disclosure: Louie Andrew Mabelin is Annie Gorra’s nephew.)