Qiagen has begun working with a biotech startup focused on cell therapies to develop a COVID-19 diagnostic test capable of comprehensively profiling a person’s immune response to the disease.
The Boston area-based TScan Therapeutics launched in July 2019 with the goal of identifying new targets for T-cell therapies in both blood cancers and solid tumors. It started off with $48 million and later inked a collaboration with its Big Pharma backer Novartis for research into kidney cancer.
Now, the company is turning its genome-based, high-throughput discovery platform for parsing T-cell receptors toward the coronavirus pandemic and how those immune cells react, and has inked a licensing agreement with Qiagen.
The Dutch test maker will have the option to pick up the rights to discovered T-cell targets for the later development of in vitro laboratory diagnostics, aimed at detecting and evaluating a person’s prior exposure to the coronavirus. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“Current tests for prior exposure to coronavirus rely on the detection of antibodies, which tend to diminish within a couple of months of being infected with the virus,” said Gavin MacBeath, TScan’s chief scientific officer. “We believe that detecting antiviral T cells based on our discoveries will provide a more reliable way to determine exposure to SARS-CoV-2 over a much longer period following infection.”
“If the presence of antiviral T cells can be linked to protection from future infection, a test like this may ultimately provide valuable information on the course of the pandemic and how to return safely to normal life,” MacBeath said.
Previously identified T cells in patients recovering from COVID-19 have shown that they do not cross-react to other seasonal coronaviruses, such as the one that causes the common cold, the companies said.
Meanwhile in October, TScan announced an agreement with Poseida Therapeutics to develop allogeneic T-cell receptor therapies as a potential COVID-19 treatment, using immune cells engineered to be virus-specific.