Immunology and COVID-19

The Academy and the British Society for Immunology (BSI) have rapidly convened an expert group to collate what is currently known about the immunology of COVID-19 and develop Immunology research priorities in response to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).

The Academy and the British Society for Immunology (BSI) rapidly convened an expert group in April 2020 to collate what is currently known about the immunology of COVID-19 and develop Immunology research priorities in response to the coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19).

On 1 May 2020, the expert group published a rapid review of the relevant immunology research to help us understand how it can inform our response to the COVID-19* pandemic, and the key research priorities  for COVID-19* immunology research.

Professor Arne Akbar FMedSci, Chair of the advisory group and President of the British Society for Immunology, said:

“Immunology is at the heart of some of the most pressing issues in this pandemic, such as the best way to develop vaccines and treatments, how long people with the virus remain infectious, and when or if these people become immune.

“We brought together 15 leading immunology experts to rapidly review what we now know about COVID-19 and what we most urgently need to find out.”

The expert advisory group identified 13 priority areas where immunology research could deliver significant public health impacts either quickly, meaning within 12 – 18 months, or in the future. These priorities are:

Rapid learning about immunity for public health impact

  1. What, if any, antibody properties confer protection against the virus, and what proportion of antibody responses are protective?
  2. What are the roles of immune cells from the adaptive (T-cells) and innate systems, such as Natural Killer cells and T-cells, in protective immunity?
  3. What is the sero-prevalence of SARS-Cov-2 antibodies? What proportion of individuals mount either an antibody, or a cellular response or both after infection?
  4. How can laboratory-based antibody tests be safely scaled to reliable commercial equivalents that are not confounded by cross-reactivity to other coronaviruses?

Rapid impacts for COVID-19 treatment

  1. What is the full immunopathology of COVID-19 in the lung and other organs?
  2. What are the biomarkers predictive of severe disease?
  3. What is the potential role for antiviral and immunomodulation therapies in COVID-19 treatment?
  4. How can we reliably test whether COVID-19 patients remain infectious?

Key long-term research investments

  1. What is the rate of asymptomatic spread, and how does this contribute to transmission?
  2. What proportion of infected individuals mount a protective immune response?
  3. How long is natural and vaccine immune protection likely to last?
  4. What immunological factors correlate with protection to SARS-CoV-2 by vaccines, and how effective are vaccines at protecting older people?
  5. What is the role of immunogenetics in SARS-CoV-2 infection, and what can this tell us about potential therapeutic targets?

The UK is at the forefront of immunological research globally and is contributing at the highest level to tackling the pandemic. This report aims to ensure that the immunology research priorities identified are addressed as swiftly as possible, and that a firm base is established for the necessary studies to inform our response to the coronavirus outbreak.

The expert group will continue to work towards urgently mobilising and coordinating the UK’s immunology research response to coronavirus (COVID-19).

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