The recent emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 present a tremendous and unprecedented challenge for global health. There is no treatment, no vaccine, and testing cannot keep up with demand. With reported infections approaching 3 million worldwide and nearly 200,000 deaths, SARS-CoV-2 is spreading very easily and sustainably between people, even by silent carriers who are infected but have no symptoms.
Three Huntsville organizations are working together to study the disease and work toward a treatment.
Huntsville Hospital, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and iRepertoire, Inc., a diagnostic technology company located on the HudsonAlpha campus, are studying local patients diagnosed with COVID-19 under a Huntsville Hospital Institutional Review Committee approved protocol, to learn how the human immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with hopes for developing an effective treatment for the disease.
“The most effective way to stop pandemics is with vaccines,” says Rick Myers, PhD, president and scientific director for HudsonAlpha. “However, the pipeline for vaccine production from development, to testing, to market can take years. A COVID-19 treatment is the best way to bridge the gap until a vaccine is widely available.”
Area participants who have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19 will be recruited by a research coordinator to participate in the study. The patients will provide blood samples at four time points over a series of weeks in order to gauge how their immune system is responding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers at HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire hope the results of the study can be used to find and test possible treatments or cures for COVID-19 by using antibodies identified in these patients.
“The immune system is nature’s best doctor,” says Jian Han, MD, PhD, founder and chief scientific officer of iRepertoire. “By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities.”
The proteins that these cells produce, called antibodies or immunoglobulins, can potentially serve as a therapeutic vaccine that is administered after infection.
“We are pleased to work with HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire in the critical challenge of developing a treatment for COVID-19 and ultimately, a vaccine,” said David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital Health System.