The COVID test. Don’t fear the reaper

My daughter, Sarah, reacts as a nurse inserts a swab into her sinus cavity for a COVID test.

You’ve no doubt seen video clips of people being tested for COVID-19 where a health care professional inserts a long cotton swab into their nostril. I wince each time because it looks like they’re trying to make the brain squeaky clean instead of probing for virus.

So, wouldn’t you know it that my turn came today for a COVID test.

Both my daughter and I have been showing some symptoms, although she was originally diagnosed with an ear infection. And I have ongoing allergy challenges.

But Sarah also has a hacking cough and needed to have the test done for her work. I have been incredibly tired in recent days, so I decided to join her.

Our first decision was where to have the test done.

My friends at Norman-based IMMY, a developer and manufacturer of innovative lines of diagnostic tests and reagents for infectious diseases, have also developed an FDA approved COVID test. It set up a subsidiary company called IMMY Labs to conduct the testing.

IMMY conducts free, drive-by testing daily in the Edmond/Oklahoma City area and locations across the state that include Tulsa, Blanchard, Norman, Moore, Midwest City, Chickasha, Purcell and more. They call their testing sites the Swab Pod. Results are promised in two days or less.

So, Sarah and I chose the Swab Pod near the UCO campus and drove over for our tests this afternoon.

I have to admit that I was fairly apprehensive. Those news clips didn’t do me any favors.

We drove up about 5 minutes before our scheduled time and got in line behind about three other vehicles. There was a check-in table where they scanned a registration code on our phone and placed vials on our windshield beneath the wipers.

The vehicle in front of us pauses for a quick swab test.

We were told to fall in line and follow the vehicles to the nurse’s station. Less than two minutes later we were there.

The nurse approached Sarah’s side first, and I took photos as she was swabbed. It took only seconds, and she didn’t show any discomfort.

My time came. I closed my eyes, leaned back in the seat and anticipated the worst, which I’m not sure what that would have been. The swab scraping my brain? Hitting a nerve? Blinding me?

The nurse inserted the swab and counted down from five. Just like that it was over. I had a tickling sensation and almost sneezed. That was it.

We drove off the lot and were on our way in less than 30 seconds, slightly giddy at how painless and easy it was. We’ll know the results probably sometime tomorrow.

The lesson for me? Don’t fear the reaper.

Stay tuned.

OSU center pursues alternatives to Opioid pain medications

A screen shot of the August meeting of the board that oversees the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology.

Editor’s Note: I recently sat in on the August virtual meeting of the board that oversees the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), where a couple of scientists made some interesting presentations. First up was a presentation from OSU’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery, followed by Sean Bauman of Norman’s IMMY.  I wrote up this report on the presentations, a portion of which was published in the Oklahoma City Journal Record business newspaper.   (Subscription required)

Researchers at Oklahoma State University’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery (NCWR) are pursuing promising new molecules that could break the link between Opioid pain medications and the often-fatal side effects that accompany them, a scientist said this week.

During a presentation to the August meeting of the board that governs the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), Don Kyle, Ph.D., said the Center has “unpublished research molecules” that show efficacy in pain relief without the common side effects of Opioids.

“New molecular approaches to treating pain outside the Opioid world, or using Opioid mechanisms in new ways are of premiere importance to develop Opioid-strength analgesics without the Opioid side-effect baggage,” said Kyle, an adjunct professor of Pharmacology and Physiology at OSU’s Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa.

Launched in 2017, the National Center for Wellness & Recovery is located on OSU’s Center for Health Sciences campus. A settlement announced last year between the State of Oklahoma and drug maker Purdue Pharma established a $200 million endowment for the Center to pursue research and treatment for Opioid addiction.

Kyle provided a historical perspective on Opioids for the OCAST board.

A graphic used in the presentation revealed that Opioids were first developed in the 1800s, but scientists didn’t discover the biological mechanisms by which they provide pain relief until the 1970s.

Efforts to develop side-effect free alternatives to Opioids have been largely unsuccessful, Kyle said.

“Look back over the past 25 or 30 years, FDA approval of new non-addictive pain medications has been disappointing,” he said. “It’s not because no one is trying.”

With discoveries of new molecules that show efficacy in pain reduction in pre-clinical trials, OSU’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery is pushing the science closer to a real alternative, he said.

“These molecules show analgesic efficacy that is comparable to morphine in animal models, but have reductions in the unwanted side effects,” Kyle said. “The bottom line is to end the Opioid crisis using scientific research.”

The OCAST board also heard a presentation from Sean Bauman, Ph.D., CEO of Norman-based IMMY, a developer and manufacturer of diagnostic tests for infectious diseases. Through a subsidiary called IMMYLabs, the company developed an FDA-approved test for COVID-19 in March to make testing more widely accessible across Oklahoma.

IMMY has since set up drive-through mobile test sites in nine communities, including Claremore, Edmond, McAlester, Midwest City, Moore, Norman, Sapulpa, Shawnee and Yukon.

“I can tell you, there is nothing else like this in the state of Oklahoma,” Bauman said. “You can make an appointment at IMMYLabs.com, pick a site, a day and an appointment time. All the data entry happens in advance of your appointment.”

The whole process takes less than 10 minutes, with diagnostic results available within two business days.

“We’re committed to fast turn-around,” Bauman said.

 

IMMY brings new tools to state fight against Coronavirus

OCAST interview with IMMY about COVID-19 testing from OCAST on Vimeo.

 
Editor’s note: I recently was invited to a virtual meeting with Sean Bauman, Ph.D., CEO of Norman’s IMMY, and facilitated by Debbie Cox of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST). This is the report I filed after the Zoom interview.

When the Coronavirus pandemic made its way to Oklahoma in March, the state’s ability to test suspected COVID-19 virus infections in Oklahomans was limited by the number of tests available to health care providers.

And when patients were tested, health care providers had to wait days for results to be returned from out-of-state laboratories.

“The turnaround time was just a big problem,” said Sean Bauman, Ph.D., president and CEO of IMMY (Immuno-Mycologics, Inc.), a diagnostic manufacturing company based in Norman. Bauman recently joined OCAST’s governing board, the Oklahoma Science and Technology Research and Development (OSTRaD) Board.

“You have a patient sitting in a hospital, and you are having to don and doff Personal Protection Equipment numerous times a day to care for that patient,” Bauman said. “And to get a COVID negative result three to five days later, you can imagine how much the wasted PPE costs.”

So, IMMY stepped up to develop a solution at its Norman laboratories. It developed and validated a nasal swab-based test known as PCR that allowed laboratories to provide results in a matter of hours.

“We dove in and literally from idea to reporting our first test result was 10 days,” Bauman said. “Crazy fast.”

But not crazy as in sloppy or low quality, Bauman clarified. IMMY was able to quickly develop its own test because it is an FDA and ISO manufacturing facility in a highly regulated industry. Its 85 employees are skilled professionals capable of overcoming challenges to develop a test to FDA standards.

“The other thing that happened, we had an incredible partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Health,” Bauman said. “They were fantastic, helped us get up-and-running as fast as we could. Just a great story of partnership.”

Gov. Stitt visits IMMY labs in Norman (photo from News9 video)

IMMY since has added a blood test for COVID-19 antibodies, which can confirm if a person has had the coronavirus and is potentially immune to further infection.

Bauman was part of Gov. Stitt’s recent press conference announcing the implementation of testing for COVID-19 antibodies. Stitt also toured IMMY’s Norman campus. 

“This is actually an important test, in my opinion, because Oklahoma is now in a unique position, with both the antibodies test and the PCR test at our disposal,” he said. “So, two tools in the tool belt.”

IMMY’s tests were part of a random sampling of 1,000 Oklahomans in early April to assess how widespread the virus is across the state. The sampling revealed that approximately 1.4 percent of the Oklahoma population had the virus at that time.

So, what does that mean?

“At that point in time, I think the conclusion from the study was that COVID-19 is just not in the general population to any large extent,” he said.

Bauman recommends random sampling across the state for COVID-19 at weekly intervals.

“Now that we have these two tools at our disposal we can start to ask different questions,” he said. “When is it safe for people to go back to work? When is it safe to relax some of the restrictions on people being out and in the community? Lots of different questions are going to be ask in the coming weeks and days.”