CHOP Researchers Repurpose Cancer Immunotherapy Tools for COVID-19 Vaccine Research

June 9, 2020

Cancer researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are repurposing tools used for the development of cancer immunotherapies to identify regions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to target with a vaccine, employing the same approach used to elicit an immune response against cancer cells to stimulate an immune response against the virus.

Cancer researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are repurposing tools used for the development of cancer immunotherapies to identify regions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to target with a vaccine, employing the same approach used to elicit an immune response against cancer cells to stimulate an immune response against the virus, according to a CHOP press release.

"In many ways, cancer behaves like a virus, so our team decided to use the tools we developed to identify unique aspects of childhood cancers that can be targeted with immunotherapies and apply those same tools to identify the right protein sequences to target in SARS-CoV-2," said senior author John M. Maris, M.D., a pediatric oncologist in CHOP's Cancer Center.

In research described in Cell Reports Medicine, the Maris and his colleagues propose a list of 65 peptide sequences that, when targeted, offer the greatest probability of providing population-scale immunity. As a next step, the team is testing various combinations of a dozen or so of these sequences in mouse models to assess their safety and effectiveness

The researchers looked for regions that would stimulate a memory T-cell response that, when paired with the right B cells, would drive memory B cell formation and provide lasting immunity and do so across the majority of human genomes. They targeted regions of SARS-CoV-2 that are present across multiple related coronaviruses, as well as new mutations that increase infectivity, while also ensuring that those regions were as dissimilar as possible from sequences naturally occurring in humans to maximize safety.

"With the third epidemic in the past two decades underway, all originating from the coronavirus family, these viruses will continue to threaten the human population and necessitate the need for prophylactic measures against future outbreaks," said lead author Mark Yarmarkovich. "A subset of the sequences selected in our study are derived from viral regions that are very similar to other coronaviruses, and thus our approach, if successful, could lead to protection against not only SARS-CoV-2 but also other coronaviruses that might emerge in the future."