Two projects at the IGTP and IDIAP Jordi Gol research centres focus on the immune response of health professionals to infection with SARS-CoV-2

- Campus Can Ruti, Projects, Research
  • The IGTP has received funding in the extraordinary call published by the Department of Research and Innovation of the Department of Health (DGRIS) with the collaboration of AQuAS and Biocat and aimed at all the Iriscat centres for research into coronavirus
  • The two projects, focussed on the immune response of health professionals on the frontline with the virus, have joined the forces of the IGTP, IrsiCaixa and research and healthcare in the context of primary and hospital healthcare
  • A third project, led by Dr Julià Blanco, researcher at IrsiCaixa and the IGTP has also received funding

Two new projects to fight SARS-CoV-2, and the illness COVID-19 it causes, are about to start at the IGTP. They will do so with the funding obtained from the Ministry of Health (Autonomous Government of Catalonia) through the Department of Research and Innovation (DGRIS) which has allocated four million euros to a total of 19 projects aimed at the prevention and treatment of the disease COVID-19. In the context of an emergency call carried out with the collaboration of Biocat the projects have been selected from researchers of the different health research centres within the IRISCAT Alliance (Health Research and Innovation Institutes of Catalonia.)

The first, led by Pere-Joan Cardona, researcher at the IGTP is a clinical trial with the RUTI vaccine for tuberculosis to strengthen the immune system of healthcare workers at risk of being infected by SARS-CoV-2. The second is being led by Pere Torán and Concepción Violan of the Foundation University Institute for Primary Health Care Research Jordi Gol i Gurina (IDIAP Jordi Gol) and will study the immune response of health professionals infected by SARS-CoV-2 in order to understand the infection in a particular area, identify individuals with a good immune response and study acquired immunity.

An approved and safe vaccine to strengthen the immune response

The study is looking to stimulate the innate immune system of healthcare professionals to avoid their possible infection by SARS-CoV-2 developing complications. It will be carried out using the RUTI vaccine, which is in development for treatment of tuberculosis (TB) and is manufactured from fragments of the bacteria that causesTB. The vaccine is being developed by the Catalan company Archivel Farma after a discovery by Dr Pere-Joan Cardona, Principal Investigator of the current project, and it is in the advanced stages of clinical trials.

The clinical trial to be financed by this call will be carried out with 300 healthcare professionals who have tested negative for SARS-CoV-2 and who are at high risk of infection. It will last approximately 6 months and the professionals will be selected in conjunction with the primary care services of IDIAP Jordi Gol, who are also partners in the project.

Optimizing human resource management through studying acquired immunity

The project aims to construct a picture of the healthcare professionals exposed to SARS-CoV-2 using serological and immunological characteristics which will enable the researchers to distinguish between carriers with symptoms and those without. Dr Pere Torán and Dr Concepció Violan of the IDIAP Jordi Gol, a centre affiliated with the IGTP, are leading the project.

Additionally, the study aims to identify the time that immunity to SARS-CoV-2 lasts, how long the state of being a carrier without symptoms lasts and the predictive factors related to the state of asymptomatic carrier. It will seek to define an algorithm to identify carriers and the immune response (semi-quantitative) from the results from the samples of the study subjects. Finally, this project is looking to identify the liquid proteins in the initial stages of COVID-19 that could serve as biomarkers or tracers of the progression or severity of the disease, this will be carried out in collaboration with the research group Viral Immune Evasion and Vaccines (VIRIEVAC) at IrsiCaixa, led by Dr Julia García Prado.

The results will contribute to the optimization of the management of human resources, using solid criteria to maximise the safety for professionals and patients and thus reinforcing the health system to fight the pandemic and the new waves of diseases that can be expected. The project is a collaboration between several research centres, primary healthcare and healthcare at the hospital, with the Germans Trias i Pujol Hospital as a partner, through the collaboration of Dr Eva Martínez Cáceres. Collaboration is a key feature of this project, allowing for a truly accurate and global vision of the situation.

A strategy to prevent SARS-CoV-2 entering human cells

Additionally, a third project awarded to the IGTP and the Aids Research Institute IrisCaixa is being  led by Dr Julià Blanco, who carries out his research at IrsiCaixa. The project will test a strategy to block a viral protein vital for infection: Protein S. Protein S of SARS-CoV-2 is the main external viral protein and allows the virus to enter target cells by binding to ACE2 Protein on the outside of the cells.

The therapeutic strategy is based on the use of proteins derived from Human ACE2 Protein combined with antibodies. These proteins bind to Protein S and the viral particles, capturing them and avoiding infection. This type of therapy has the advantage that it can be useful against different coronaviruses, making it a potential weapon against future outbreaks.