The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center sent out a release stating Gov. Greg Abbott recognized TTUHSC as a key producer of Viral Transport Medium, a critical component in spreading access to COVID-19 testing across Texas.
The Jerry H. Hodge School of Pharmacy has provided nearly 15,000 vials of VTM since March, with almost 9,000 vials shipped out for COVID-19 testing across the state, according to the release. An additional 12,000 to 16,000 vials are in the process of being made to satisfy the high demand for tests this week. TTUHSC is also looking to be a resource for health care communities in Texas to educate them about the on-site process of producing VTM.
“Our group produced a webinar on the production process that will be shared with other universities and labs around the state who may also be able to help,” Eric MacLaughlin, chair of pharmacy practice for TTUHSC, said, according to the release.
VTM is a tube with 1 to 3 milliliters of cell culture media containing an antibiotic and antifungal agent, according to the release. Because COVID-19 is unstable, the VTM protects the samples of the virus collected from degrading on their way to test processing facilities, as changes could lead to incorrect results.
Over 8,000 vials of VTM have been received in Amarillo, Brownfield, Lubbock, Snyder, Levelland, Denton, Eden, Brady, Littlefield, Tahoka, Lamesa, Odessa, Muleshoe, Pampa, Hemphill, Big Spring, Seminole, Friona, Shamrock, San Angelo, Slaton, Colorado City, Abilene, Dumas and Hereford, according to the release. Of those vials, 2,000 were sent on a refrigerated truck to San Antonio, escorted by a Texas State Trooper.
Todd Bell, associate professor of pediatrics for TTUHSC, partnered with MacLaughlin, Mikala Conatser, assistant professor for TTUHSC, and Ulrich Bickel, professor and associate dean of sciences for the TTUHSC School of Pharmacy, to begin production due to a shortage of VTM locally, according to the release. Once the team successfully produced the VTM, communities who needed their supplies replenished began reaching out.
“While we didn’t have VTM in our labs, a literature search revealed that such VTM could be prepared in-house from materials that are readily available in many labs doing cell culture work,” Bickel said, according to the release
The vials passed sterility testing as the Lubbock state lab confirmed the quality by running positive groups with samples of COVID-19 on April 3, according to the release.
“From the onset, the VTM production has been a team effort between faculty in the Departments of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Pharmacy Practice and Pediatrics,” MacLaughlin said, according to the release. “I know of several private cleanrooms in Amarillo where additional VTM could be made. It’s certainly not as efficient as commercial manufacturers, but this process could be scaled up.”
In addition to the TTUHSC team, a group from the Edward E. Whitacre Jr. College of Engineering is helping with production and has made 10,000 vials, according to the release. They are working on making another 10,000 in the next few days.
Constantinos Mikelis, assistant professor at TTUHSC, Behnam Noorani, graduate student at TTUHSC, Siavash Shahbazi, graduate student at TTUHSC, Desmon Dunn, unit manager at TTUHSC, Heather Houser, pharmacy technician at TTUHSC, Maegan Whitworth, assistant professor at TTUHSC, and Jill Frost are other team members working alongside MacLaughlin, Bickel, Conatser and Bell, according to the release.