Verily taps Oncimmune tech for ‘long COVID’ study

by Stephen Riddle

Alphabet’s Verily Life Science has contracted UK biotech Oncimmune to investigate autoantibodies in people who have developed long-lasting symptoms after COVID-19 infection, a condition known as ‘long COVID’.

The aim of the project is to try to find patterns of autoantibodies – antibodies that react with self antigens – that are present early on in COVID-19 infection that are associated with the development of long COVID, also known as post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) infection.

Studies have suggested that some patients with COVID-19 exhibit marked increases in autoantibody reactivities as compared to uninfected individuals, including some that seem to target immune components like cytokines, chemokines and complement proteins.

It’s still an emerging area of research, with intriguing findings from scientists working in this area, for example that autoantibody activation is more common in women after asymptomatic infection and in men after a symptomatic infection, which paint a picture of a complex syndrome.

Oncimmune will use its infectious disease panel of biomarkers to find autoantibodies that are indicators of long COVID, and see if levels remain in long COVID patients during their period to recovery.

Verily meanwhile has been active in the response to COVID-19 since early on in the pandemic, devoting some of its lab capacity to testing, developing screening tools for health systems and hospitals, and working with Janssen to explore how the coronavirus affects a person’s immune system immediately after a positive test result.

“The real impact on society of long COVID is only beginning to be understood,” said Oncimmune’s chief executive Dr Adam Hill.

The contract includes “potential for the initial discovery work in autoantibodies to progress onto the identification of intellectual property rights, and to the development of viable commercial companion diagnostic devices,” he added.

Financial terms of the contract have not been disclosed. The deal was announced as Oncimmune reported half-year revenues of £1.4 million ($1.9 million) in the first half of its financial year ended November 30, 2021, slightly down on the same period of 2020 shortly after the company launched.

It now counts five of the top 10 pharma companies as customers for its ImmunoINSIGHTS autoantibody profiling platform, and says it expects revenues for the full year to reach around £6 million.

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