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HUNTSVILLE, Ala.– Huntsville HospitalHudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and iRepertoire, Inc., a diagnostic technology company located on the HudsonAlpha campus, are studying local patients diagnosed with COVID-19 under a Huntsville Hospital approved protocol to learn how the human immune system responds to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, with hopes for developing an effective treatment for the disease.

“The most effective way to stop pandemics is with vaccines,” said Rick Myers, PhD, president and scientific director for HudsonAlpha. “However, the pipeline for vaccine production from development, to testing, to market can take years. A COVID-19 treatment is the best way to bridge the gap until a vaccine is widely available.”

Area participants who have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19 will be recruited by a research coordinator to participate in the study. The patients will provide blood samples at four time points over a series of weeks in order to gauge how their immune system is responding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“You’d like to get the blood sample from an individual as soon as they have symptoms and then you’d like to do time points maybe in four days and another four days after that as they’re recovering. Then you can use that information that you’ve gotten and mass-produce the antibody in a factory,” said Myers. 

Researchers at HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire hope the results of the study can be used to find and test possible treatments or cures for COVID-19 by using antibodies identified in these patients.

“The immune system is nature’s best doctor,” said Jian Han, MD, PhD, founder and chief scientific officer of iRepertoire. “By understanding the immune system of patients that have effectively fought the pathogen, we can pinpoint the exact identity of cells that effectively eliminate the virus out of millions of possibilities.” 

The proteins that these cells produce, called antibodies or immunoglobulins, can potentially serve as a therapeutic vaccine that is administered after infection. 

“We are pleased to work with HudsonAlpha and iRepertoire in the critical challenge of developing a treatment for COVID-19 and ultimately, a vaccine,” said David Spillers, CEO of Huntsville Hospital Health System.

The recent emergence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and worldwide outbreak of COVID-19 present an unprecedented challenge for global health. There is no treatment, no vaccine, and testing cannot keep up with demand. 

“We’re not the only people trying to develop an antibody treatment. I’m delighted that that’s happening because otherwise this scourge is going to go on for decades as opposed to… we hope just months,” says Myers. 

HudsonAlpha says data and research are being shared globally in an effort to find treatments.