Vanderbilt Medical Center Partners with Academic, Corporate and Government Entities to Develop Potential Coronavirus Antibody Therapies


Skanda Gulibhi, Contributor

Vanderbilt University Medical Center is partnering up with academic, governmental and corporate entities in an attempt to develop an antibody-based treatment for the novel coronavirus.

Researchers in Vanderbilt Vaccine Center (VVC) have the ability to isolate “B” cells, which are white blood cells containing antibodies that can neutralize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some of the resources that are being used for research include VUMC’s core genomics laboratory, Vanderbilt Technologies for Genomics (VANTAGE).

Similar techniques have been used to combat other pathogenic viruses such as Ebola, chikungunya, HIV, dengue, norovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). As an innovative research-driven medical centre, VUMC’s reporter Bill Snyder argues that they pioneered the “rational design of neutralizing antibody treatments and vaccines.” This pioneering work has contributed to several clinical trials currently underway for a variety of diseases.

With regards to a timeline for human clinical trials, James Crowe, the director of Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, reported to Snyder that they expect them to be rolled out by this summer. This timeline is in line with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the U.S. Department of Defense’s Pandemic Protection Platform program, cutting short the response time to weeks instead of years.

Two of the biggest funding sources for the VVC include DARPA and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. The VVC is a participant in DARPA’s Pandemic Protection Platform (P3) program, a multi-year agreement which seeks to accelerate the process of developing medical treatments against infectious diseases.

Vanderbilt’s academic partners in its efforts to isolate antibodies that fight COVID-19 include medical experts from universities across the country, including University of Washington in Seattle, Washington University in St. Louis, Emory University in Atlanta, among others. Such a multi-university alliance of the best academics sharing their knowledge and resources only accelerates the effort in finding medical countermeasures during this pandemic.

Corporate partners aiding Vanderbilt’s research efforts include STEMCELL Technologies, Inc., Canada’s largest biotechnology company, 10x Genomics and Twist Bioscience, two biotechnology companies based out of California, and Berkeley Lights Inc, a leader in cell biology platforms and a partner to Sequoia Capital, one of the world’s leading venture capital firms.

“COVID-19 is a serious threat to our health, our way of life, and the world economy,” said Dr. Eric Hobbs, CEO of Berkeley Lights, in a report published by his company about their partnership with Vanderbilt. “We are committed to doing our part by developing assays and workflows that researchers and therapeutic developers can use to rapidly discover antibodies that are key to treatments.”