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Microsoft, Biotech Examine Covid-19 Immune Response

T-cells illustration

T-cells (NASA.gov)

5 May 2020. A study is enrolling home-bound participants to learn more about the response of T-cells in the immune system to SARS-CoV-2 viruses causing Covid-19 infections. The research, known as ImmuneRACE, is a joint project of biotechnology company Adaptive Biotechnologies Corp. in Seattle and tech giant Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Washington.

Adaptive Biotechnologies applies genomic sequencing to immune system cells, generating profiles of receptors on those cells for diagnostics and therapies for diseases related to the immune system, as well as cancer. The company is a spin-off enterprise from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, founded in 2009. Its main technology sequences genes from receptors on T- and B-cells, white blood cells in the immune system, for diagnostics and therapies.

The partnership between Adaptive Biotechnologies and Microsoft expands on a relationship begun in January 2018 and reported at the time by Science & Enterprise. The collaboration joins Adaptive Bio’s immune-system sequencing capabilities with Microsoft’s large-scale machine learning and cloud computing to create diagnostics for individual patients from a simple blood test. The partnership is producing a map connecting T-cell receptors and antigens, proteins that emit signals for a particular disease, eventually leading to a universal diagnostic test. In March 2020, the companies extended the collaboration to cover a range of specific diseases, including Covid-19.

The ImmuneRACE project applies the partnership’s accumulated experience and technology for tests that complement current diagnostic and antibody tests and add more detailed knowledge about immune system responses to SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Those added details about the immune system and the coronavirus, say the companies, can also help triage patients and decide on better treatments, as well as boost immunity surveillance in the population at large, for better-informed decisions on lifting restrictions on travel, education, and economic life.

The study asks adults in the U.S. to volunteer nasal swabs and blood tests if they currently have a Covid-19 infection or are recently recovered. In addition, the study seeks adults with known exposure to people with Covid-19 infections, or live in 24 cities or regions with a high infection rate. Representatives from the contract research organization Covance, a division of medical testing company LabCorp., will collect the samples from participants at their homes.

In the study, blood and nasal swab samples are genetically analyzed to find immune cell receptors, to which algorithms are applied to detect immune cell receptors associated with SARS-CoV-2. The remaining data are collected with online questionnaires. Data from participants, say Adaptive Bio and Microsoft, are de-identified to meet HIPAA privacy requirements. No individual diagnostics are returned to participants.

“As many are sheltering in place wondering how they can help,” says Adaptive Bio CEO Chad Robins in a statement, “we wanted to launch ImmuneRACE with Microsoft and give people an opportunity to participate. These efforts are complementary to many global initiatives underway to study the virus itself.”

“Immune response data may augment what we have been learning to date,” adds Microsoft vice president for A.I. and research Peter Lee, “to help determine who is at greater risk of developing more severe symptoms and may help with future containment efforts. Anyone who has been affected by Covid-19 holds key information that can help contain and manage the virus.”

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