It has been over a century since we encountered a pandemic like COVID-19. The rate of global transmission and the associated morbidity and mortality have been both shocking and devastating. The pandemic has sparked fears of a chronic worldwide recession or depression. Shut-downs, social distancing and travel restrictions have destroyed many jobs and businesses. A reliable diagnostic test to quantify whether citizens have been infected or have recovered from the virus is critical to overcome this crisis. A proposal that is gaining increasing traction is the use of diagnostic tests to generate immunity passports—i.e., certification that a citizen is immune to SARS-CoV-2. Citizens in possession of an immunity passport could then return to work and travel, thereby reigniting the economy. However, as governments gear up efforts to establish immunity passports based on antibody tests, there is a significant risk that these passports will be denied to immune individuals. Recent studies suggest that only 50% of convalescent COVID-19 patients have a detectable antibody response as their infection has been controlled and eradicated by the cellular arm of their immune system driven by T cells. It is therefore critical to develop diagnostic tests that can quantify cellular immunity towards SARS-CoV-2. In this project NEC OncoImmunity (NOI) will work with our partner Professor Ludvig Munthe at the Oslo University Hospital (OUS) to develop a T-cell diagnostic to complement the antibody tests. NOI will use artificial intelligence (AI) and bioinformatics methods to select the viral peptides that can be used to identify T-cells that provide immunity against COVID-19, which will be subsequently validated using COVID-19 biobanks and T-cell assays developed by Professor Ludvig Munthe’s group. The AI platform developed in the project will guide the development of a novel T cell-based diagnostic for COVID-19 and facilitate the introduction of reliable immunity passports.
Project leader: Trevor Clancy
Institution: NEC ONCOIMMUNITY AS