By Mary Ellen Schneider
Building on their knowledge in developing cellular therapies, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine have created a bank SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cells that could someday be used to treat patients with severe COVID-19 infection. The findings, which come from a preclinical feasibility study, were reported at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology.
“There is accumulating evidence that points towards the important protective role of T cells in preventing COVID-19,” said Spyridoula Vasileiou, PhD, of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy, Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Houston Methodist Hospital. “In elderly patients and individuals with severe, rather than mild, COVID-19, T-cell deficits and dysregulation have been reported, pointing to the importance of cellular immunity in combatting this disease.”
Dr. Vasileiou and her colleagues have experience working with allogeneic ex vivo expanded multivirus-specific T cells in the treatment of Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, BK virus, Human herpesvirus 6, and adenovirus infections in immunocompromised patients.
In their current work, the researchers obtained peripheral blood mononuclear cells from individuals who had recovered from mild SARS-CoV-2 infection and identified several structural and non-structural proteins that were then used to create SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells in the lab. They used their virus-specific T cell manufacturing process to generate a bank of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells with activity against the identified combination of immunodominant targets (Abstract 612).
In preclinical testing, the T cells generated were polyfunctional and able to selectively kill viral antigen-expressing agents without autoreactivity or alloreactivity.
These SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells will next be tested in humans as part of a proof of concept trial currently recruiting at Houston Methodist Hospital. During the trial, eligible patients will receive a single infusion of T cells to determine the safe and optimal dose. The next stage will be a randomization phase comparing standard-of-care treatment to standard treatment plus T-cell infusion. Dr. Vasileiou said the research team expects to share initial clinical data in 2021.
“This is yet another way in which T cells can be used to fight infection or fight disease and it makes them really remarkable,” said Alisa Wolberg, PhD, professor in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who moderated a press briefing featuring T cell study.