The new immunotherapy uses NK cells with a specific molecule that can act on the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Credit: NIAID / Flickr (Creative Commons).

Scientists at City of Hope in the US have developed a novel immunotherapy that could offer a new treatment pathway for treating Covid-19 and other infections.

The immunotherapy leverages natural killer (NK) cells with a specific molecule that can act on the spike protein of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The study adds to the expertise of City of Hope in utilising CAR T cell therapy, natural killer cells and other immunotherapies to aid in detecting better therapies for cancer and other ailments.

NK cells are lymphocytes in the body that detect and quickly act on abnormal cells, including virus-infected cells. 

These cells are universal killers in the immune response of the body against some viruses or tumours, however they are not specific against SARS-CoV-2.

Furthermore, Covid-19 patients have substantially fewer numbers of NK cells, studies showed. 

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In the latest study, researchers at City of Hope demonstrated that altering the NK cells genetically with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that ‘sees’ the SARS-CoV-2 virus boosts survival in virus-infected animals.

The researchers isolated NK cells from umbilical cord blood for the study and utilised them to produce CAR-NK cells. Subsequently, the cells were engineered to express ACE2 receptors, a protein that detects and binds to the virus to enter a cell. 

The CAR-NK cells leverage the ACE2 receptor to bind to SARS-CoV2’s spike protein and attack the virus.

The modified NK cells were administered to Covid-19-infected humanised mice. 

According to the findings, a lower viral load and extended survival was observed in the animal models. 

The team plans to obtain clearance to utilise their CAR-NK cell product to treat moderate- to high-risk Covid-19 patients in the future.

City of Hope National Medical Center president Michael Caligiuri said: “The importance of this off-the-shelf therapy is that one does not need to use one’s own cells — the cells can be frozen and ready to go, locally or shipped anywhere around the world.”

Cell & Gene Therapy coverage on Pharmaceutical Technology is supported by Cytiva.

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