By Dr Asif Tulah, Alcyomics

Alcyomics has been adapting its service provision and assays to play their part in the race to find new treatments for COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and to better understand how this virus works. Normally the company focuses on delivering their services to the pharmaceutical industry, testing the safety and efficacy of novel therapeutics under development including small molecule drugs, biologics and cellular therapies, but has adapted its unique technology to tackling COVID19.

Alcyomics Skimune® platform is normally used for the assessment of adverse immune reactions. The patented technology uses fresh human blood and autologous skin samples to mimic the human immune system in vitro and predict whether drugs will cause a systemic immune response, observed histopathologically as skin tissue damage. Skimune® readouts also include cytokine and chemokine responses as well as T cell profiling and proliferation responses which aid in identifying the type of drug induced immune response.

This uniquely places the Skimune® Platform in a position to aid in the fight against SARS-CoV-2. Investing in studying the immune response to the virus will provide critical information for the evaluation of vaccines under development and also for the clinical management of patients. The so called “cytokine storm” in SARS-CoV-2 found in the most susceptible individuals (approximately 10% of individuals) is a serious inflammatory response with the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines including IFN-α, IFN-γ, IL-1β and IL-6 amongst others and chemokines such as CCL2, CCL3, CCL5, CXCL8, CXCL9 and CXCL10. A better understanding of this in patients is necessary for the development of future therapeutics, clinical management of patients and successful clinical trials.

Alcyomics aims to assist companies with novel drug discovery by using their proprietary technology to test SARS-CoV-2 peptides identified from spike and nucleocapsid immunogenic proteins associated with different patient genotypes. Understanding this will provide important information on cytokine and chemokine profiles as well at the genetic level, which when correlated with epidemiological factors and HLA genotype information (for example, important HLA genotypes identified from other coronaviruses such as SARS and MERS) could provide valuable insight into disease signatures and responder profiles. This information could prove extremely valuable to scientists and pharmaceutical companies involved in the development of new therapeutics.

Alcyomics hope is that cytokine and chemokine profiles, as well as gene signatures, will correspond to low, medium and high responders of SARS-CoV-19. These results will inform on the severity or heterogeneity of the “cytokine storm”, pathways of immune activation and identify susceptibility differences to the virus. Professor Anne Dickinson, CEO of Alcyomics, said ‘Further understanding of the pathways of immune activation and differences in susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 will help design therapeutic strategies to modulate the immune response and aid vaccine development’. The safety and efficacy assessment of drugs is the normal business activity for Alcyomics and here their assays could also provide assistance in vaccine development. They aim to show the specificity of the vaccine against the target antigen and also through investigating the exacerbated release of cytokines. Professor Dickinson, added: ‘Using anti-viral T-cell specific assays and our Skimune® platform will enable us to demonstrate safety and efficacy for anti-viral vaccines’. Alcyomics are currently exploring these options by speaking with the industry to determine the scope for collaboration of research projects on these topics.