During war time, we come together. Collectively, tremendous progress has been made in the war against COVID-19. New tests, clinical trials, and public-private partnerships to enable solutions have been quickly mobilized to curb the impact of this pandemic.
If only it were enough. New information about the virus – and what we are learning about it – is breaking at a dizzying pace. We are learning that the disease may be far more prevalent than we originally realized, but significant issues remain with testing. We now know that the first cases in the U.S. could trace back to early February, and with the high rate of false positives and negatives with the most recent serology tests, we still have no reliable way to get an accurate picture of who has and has not been infected. In this marathon, we have a long way to go to achieve widespread and standardized access to testing, tracking and tracing, and to ensure efficacious therapeutic and vaccine approaches can be made available to everyone.
Earlier this week, I joined biotech colleagues for the Alexandria Summit/Duke-Margolis Webinar: COVID-19 Policy Forum 2020 to discuss how we can accelerate this effort. My message: we cannot afford to make this a linear process.
At Adaptive, we are contributing important information about the adaptive immune response to COVID-19 that can advance global efforts to better diagnose and treat this virus. On the diagnostic side, we are expanding our partnership with Microsoft to decode the immune system’s response to COVID-19. As we make progress in this effort, we will be making the data publicly available to help advance other solutions to address COVID-19.
While there has been great progress with PCR and serology tests, there are still both standardization and biological issues that are making it hard to understand how widespread the virus really is and who has truly developed immunity. We are hopeful that a cellular immune test may resolve some of these issues. This is critical for government entities to set policies to enable life to resume and the economy to reopen.
On the therapeutic side, we are partnering with Amgen to identify and develop therapeutic antibodies from the blood of patients who are actively fighting or have recently recovered from COVID-19. Like others, we think that neutralizing antibodies may be effective since this virus seems to mutate more slowly than other RNA viruses and mutated strains are genetically similar.
We have seen some early successes using convalescent plasma therapy to boost the ability of patients with severe cases of COVID-19 to fight off the infection, but unfortunately, it can’t be scaled, nor standardized. With Amgen, we are using our high-throughput way of screening immune cells to find the best antibodies or what we like to say, the Michael Jordan of antibodies. These could be used off-the-shelf to treat patients fighting the disease and to potentially prevent disease in those with heightened exposure, such as healthcare workers.
It’s early days, but we are already seeing some exciting results. I’m confident that we can deliver potent antibodies to Amgen in the coming months.
It has been amazing to see such an unprecedented level of collaboration. This is the biggest challenge any of us have ever faced. I tell my family, and my colleagues, that we must pace ourselves. We are in this for the long haul, but we’ll do it together.