Researchers at Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), the research division of Main Line Health, are conducting a clinical research study examining the protective antibodies generated in patients who have recovered from COVID-19 infection. Using a unique technology pioneered at LIMR, they are capturing and replicating these antibodies from blood samples retrieved by Lankenau pathologists.
The researchers — led by LIMR Professor Scott Dessain, MD, PhD, who holds The Joseph and Ray Gordon Chair in Clinical Oncology and Research — are applying their knowledge and technology to take advantage of the ability of certain patients’ immune systems to naturally overcome the infection.
Using these antibodies, they seek to quickly translate their findings into a blood test that can identify people who have already acquired immunity to COVID-19, because they have survived the infection. (Recent investigations suggest that only about half of those who are infected actually become sick.)
Once a blood test is developed, Dr. Dessain and his team will make it available to Main Line Health patients and staff members. This is critical because it identifies, for example, clinical staff who are immune to the virus, and thus would be safe to care for COVID-19 patients without need of personal protective equipment, because they are no risk to themselves or others.
These antibodies may also point to an effective route to treat COVID-19, based on their natural development by the immune system in patients who have recovered from the disease.
Dr. Dessain notes that, while researchers elsewhere also are working in this area, LIMR’s unique technology may provide a much faster platform for identifying and generating large amounts of the best antibodies needed for blood tests and immunotherapies.
This technology uses a revolutionary antibody discovery method invented at LIMR, called On-Cell mAb Screening™, or OCMS (ock-ems) for short. OCMS can rapidly identify and isolate antibodies from patients for mass production that have the most highly desired properties.
Dr. Dessain’s team has extensive experience in this work. Illustrating the power of their OCMS method, they isolated the best patient-derived antibodies ever obtained against polio virus. In fact, these antibodies recently were designated as the International Reference Standard by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other global authorities for quality control of Sabin polio vaccines used worldwide.
Dr. Dessain’s team has received glowing and growing attention, with funding of their projects by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, WHO, and the National Institutes of Health.