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Biotechnology company CEL-SCI has begun efforts to develop an immunotherapy for the potential treatment of Covid-19 coronavirus infection.

The company will leverage its LEAPS peptide technology, which could enable immunotherapeutic peptides with antiviral, as well as anti-inflammatory effects.

CEL-SCI notes that LEAPS peptides will use conserved regions of coronavirus proteins to induce protective cell-mediated T-cell responses and also decrease viral load.

In addition to acting on the viral infection, these peptides should trigger a protective response.

Previously, the LEAPS peptides were tested against another respiratory virus, called pandemic influenza (H1N1), in studies performed in alliance with the National Institutes for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

Findings in mice models showed protection from morbidity and mortality via activation of T-cell responses instead of an inflammatory response.

CEL-SCI cellular immunology senior vice-president of research Daniel Zimmerman said: “We believe that a LEAPS Covid-19 coronavirus peptide will reduce or arrest the progression of the virus infection and prevent tissue damage from inflammation resulting from lung infection by the virus.

“In short, we believe that we can stimulate the correct immune responses to the virus without producing unwanted inflammatory responses associated with lung tissue damage. That should be particularly important in the older population who is at highest risk of dying from this virus.”

The proposed LEAPS peptides will target antigens in Covid-19’s NP protein and trigger cytolytic T-cell responses, said the company.

CEL-SCI adds that cytolytic T-cell responses target the cellular ‘factories’ infected by the virus within the host and eliminate the source of the infection.