Infection, vaccination or pre-existing natural immunity can provide strong protection against viral infection or re-infection by SARS-CoV-2. However, the extent to which immune protection may vary amongst the population, and how public health measures might be required to address this are currently uncertain.

Humoral immunity, through assessment of antibody levels, is relatively well advanced and focusses largely on the relative importance of neutralising and non-neutralising antibodies against the SARS-CoV- 2 Spike protein. In contrast, current techniques to measure antigen specific cellular immune responses are less well developed.

The COVID-19 National Core Studies (NCS) Immunity programme, in collaboration with Innovate UK and MRC, is looking to address this issue. We need to move towards the clinical implementation of novel assay systems that define the magnitude and profile of cellular immune response for SARS-CoV-2. These methods should also have application to other infectious agents and/or immune targets.

To support this work, KTN is organising a workshop on 15th April, which will include presentations from the NCS Immunity programme. The workshop will consider questions on:

  • The purpose(s) for which a cellular assay/test needs to be developed. For example, is it to predict the risk of re-infection and post-vaccine infection, based on the quality (breath and/or strength) of the cellular immune response?
  • The biomarkers/cellular characteristics that need to be measured and how to measure these, with particular consideration of T cell characteristics. Other cellular characteristics including, B cell and innate (e.g., NK) cell responses, could be of interest, where appropriately justified.
  • The format that the assay will need to have in relation to the purpose. Whether the measurement will be made central lab, point of care, low-resource setting, etc and other test characteristics (e.g., throughput, cost per sample, etc).