To find out about some of the research going on at Guy’s and St Thomas’, our intern Jasmine Ebanks has interviewed some of our researchers about their work and their career path into research.

She caught up with consultant and researcher Dr Anna Goodman, to find out about her career and recent work on COVID-19.

I spoke with Anna Goodman about her work in research as a consultant in infectious diseases and general medicine.

“I’d done small research projects when I was at medical school and then settled on wanting to do something in infections when I was training as a doctor.”

Before becoming a consultant she worked on a vaccine construct called ChAdnOx1 during her PhD with the Oxford Vaccine Group. At the time it was used for a malaria vaccine, but it is currently used in the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.

Reflecting on this, Dr Goodman said: “The first year of my PhD was actually on TB vaccines and malaria vaccines which taught me that you can work across vaccine platforms. So I was confident when we started looking for a COVID-19 vaccine, that we would find a vaccine based on all the other vaccines we have, rather than something necessarily needing to be entirely new.

When the pandemic hit, she immediately became involved with COVID-19 research. In May 2020, 500 people volunteered to take part in a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at Guy’s and St Thomas’. They were given the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine or a meningitis vaccine as a control.

Dr Goodman says the results were surprising. “If we think back to May 2020, we didn’t know if we would be able to make a vaccine that was effective. We thought if we did, it might be 50 or 70% effective. We never expected the kind of numbers that came out of some of the trials, like the first announcements of around 90 percent efficacy. It was really astounding.

Dr Goodman’s experience in research has shown her the impact that it’s having on patients which has been particularly important during the pandemic.

“It was really exciting to see something that I worked on for my PhD contribute in some tiny way to something that’s in everybody’s arms across the world having a national impact on life”

Following the licensing of the first COVID-19 vaccine for use in the UK, the next crucial step was to study the effects of combining vaccines. In the com-COV 2 clinical trial, a local team led by Dr Goodman helped to study the effects of taking two different vaccines as your first and second dose on the immune response and the severity of side effects.

“People who had received their first dose of a licensed vaccine were then randomised to get their second dose of a range of different vaccines.”

One finding was that if a patient’s second dose was Pfizer they may experience more side effects. Side effects, however, do not tell us what the immune response is like. Early in the pandemic, the immune response to COVID-19 and how to measure it was unknown, but now scientists know one of the most important things to measure – neutralizing antibodies. The Com-cov 2 team found that certain combinations of vaccines administered in a certain order were more effective than others. These results have important implications when studying booster vaccines.

Outside of COVID-19, Dr Goodman worked on a treatment trial for a condition called Staphylococcus aureus bacteremia. This is a life-threatening condition caused by bacteria that naturally lives on most people’s skin. The trial looks at using different combinations of antibiotics (intravenous and oral) to improve expected outcomes for patients.