AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin-based Benchmark Research is seeking participants for Phase III of clinical research trials involving a potential COVID-19 vaccine. 

The company announced Wednesday that Austin has been selected as a site to test vaccines aimed at preventing the spread of the virus. 

“Austin is also included [as a site] because we are having a surge in cases and they want to go where there’s a surge in cases,” said Mark Lacy, chief executive officer at Benchmark Research. 

Researchers are looking for people 18 and older.   Ideal study participants are highly likely to be and have been exposed to COVID-19 and those at risk for severe illness. They are also lookinig for individuals who are in the following occupations that put them in regular contact with the public: 

  • Nurses and doctors 
  • Construction workers 
  • Teachers 
  • Retail staff 
  • Delivery drivers  
  • Other essential workers

High-risk individuals including those above the age of 65 and those who suffer from health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and asthma are also eligible to participate. 

The company is also looking for minorities to participate, as recent data shows COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color

“The global effort to develop a vaccine has resulted in the need for thousands of study participants to join this historic fight,” said Lacy. “We know that Austinites and central Texans feel like the problem is bigger than themselves, and this is an ideal way to be a part of the solution.” 

Over the course of the trial, participants will receive compensation for their participation, which will include a specified number of visits to the facility and answering periodic phone calls regarding the study.   Many of the company’s trials typically pay up to $1500.  Travel expenses will be reimbursed and all lab work is complimentary. Insurance is not required to take part in the trial. 

Benchmark is just one of many companies across the nation that is testing the vaccine and sharing the findings with pharmaceutical companies, that will then develop the vaccine.  

“There are 23 vaccines in trials now, if four or five of them hit, then its good because there will be multiple options,” said Professor Daniel Leahy, the Chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences at University of Texas. 

Researchers from the Department of Molecular Biosciences at UT have played a critical role in the development of an experimental vaccine for COVID-19. 

READ: COVID-19 Vaccine with UT Ties Arrived Quickly After Years in the Making

 While many vaccines can take four or five years, sometimes even a decade to develop, the federal government has an accelerated timeline that could produce a vaccine by the end of the year.  Experts say the vaccine is a two-shot regimen which means participants get a shot at the beginning and another one, four weeks later. 

“It takes at least a month to have the immune response boosted properly.   After the trial starts, it takes a month or two to get enough people enrolled, another month or two for them to get their shots and then its up to the virus to see how it goes,” said Leahy.  “So I would say within three months would be the absolute earliest their might be a signal.” 

The entire study for a vaccine is enrolling 30,000 participants across the entire nation.   Patients who enroll in the study will participate for two years in the trial.  Most of the trials should begin enrollment in the last week of July.   

Experts say you need hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccine. 

“The government is actually sponsoring in its Warp Speed Program several companies, including Moderna, Inc., for which these latest results just came out, saying just make a lot of the vaccine now and stockpile it, even if it doesn’t work.  We will pay for it,” said Leahy. 

Leahy said companies will likely get Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA and then the vaccine would first likely be given to “high risk people”, including medical professionals, construction workers and food processing plants.    

To learn more or register for the clinical trials, click here.