How Biobanks are Accelerating Adoptive Cell Therapy in COVID-19 Patients


Given the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic globally, virtual COVID-19 biobanks are proving to be an indispensable tool in accelerating research geared towards finding a cure for the same.

As of May 2021, COVID-19 positive cases reported globally were about 164 million with 3.4 million deaths. About 1 in 5 positive cases develop a severe respiratory disease that may lead to multiorgan failure especially in those with underlying comorbidities. Mortalities in those with compromised immunity have been approximately 20%.

Adaptive Immunity

Current treatment approaches which include antibody-based drugs and convalescent plasma treatment have had little success. Consequently, clinical scientists are looking into novel approaches, specifically adoptive cell therapy, to combat the pandemic.

It is now emerging that T-cells may offer greater protection from coronavirus than antibodies can. When plasma and antibodies are offered to vulnerable persons, they provide temporary immunity because they are quickly cleared out through half-living. On the other hand, T cell-induced immunity is not erased from the recipient’s memory and this confers long-term immune protection against subsequent reinfections.

Researchers have proposed looking into SARS-CoV-2–specific memory T cells as a channel of propagating adaptive immunity in COVID-19 patients. In this case, cells from individuals who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection will be collected, banked, and infused into patients as treatment.

Can a recipient reject the transplanted T cells?

Patients with severe COVID-19 infections suffer from lymphopenia which is a dearth of white blood cells. Patients with severe lymphopenia have a higher chance of ending up in the ICU. However, this “lymphopenic window” provides an opportunity to transplant the SARS-CoV-2-responsive T cells from donors who have recovered from the virus without triggering a rejection.

Adoptive Cell Therapy in COVID-19

The adaptive immunity offered by T cells to COVID-19 patients has not been fully characterized. Once an infection has been identified, memory T cells are presented by antigen-presenting cells and this differentiates into effector cells that help to clear out the infection. The antigen-specific T cells then disappear while a population known as the CD45RA- or CD45RO+ persists to offer long-term immunity.

Adoptive cell therapy is characterized by a robust secondary immune response after the transplantation of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cells. For example, the transplanting of CD45RA– memory T cells to patients with COVID-19 helps to reduce mortality chances due to viral reactivations. These cells are obtained from convalescent donors and may be able to clear out SARS-COV-2 infected cells and prevent reinfection.

These cells can be stored and preserved as an “off-the-shelf” living drug.

Biobanking and Adoptive Cell Therapy

Adoptive cell therapy is yet to be exploited as an effective treatment option for SARS-COV-2 patients and also as a way to confer adaptive immunity. The SARS-CoV-2-specific T-cell population which is present within the CD45RA– memory T cells of convalescent donors can be isolated, biobanked, and later offered to COVID-19 patients in need of such treatment. These transplanted cells will retain the immunogenic memory against SARS-COV-2 and will continue to expand and proliferate creating long-lasting immunity. However, further studies are required to elucidate the extent of the long-term immunity that is conferred by adoptive cell therapy.

The CD45RA– memory T cells are collected following the same standards that apply to blood banks performing HSCT and can be conducted without GMP requirements. The cells are collected in close systems with aseptic techniques in place. This enables the creation of biobanks from the blood of convalescent donors. This can be made immediately available “off-the-shelf” and be readily available in case of an outbreak. Other benefits include providing a quick response when the need arises. It also helps to address severe lymphopenia and minimizes the risk of secondary infections.

The Need for a Cloud-Based Biobanking LIMS

biobanking LIMS, also known as biobank management software, enables biobanks to manage data on the novel coronavirus. A COVID-19 LIMS solution helps biobanks manage COVID-19 specimens and donor data, safeguard Personally identifiable information (PII) of donors, enforce standard operating procedures (SOPs), and follow best practices and regulatory compliance, assuring the quality of specimens. It enables the seamless flow of information between clinical researchers, epidemiologists, physicians, laboratory scientists, and data science teams working to create an evidence-based treatment for COVID-19. Cloud-based COVID-19 LIMS solutions are instrumental in allowing researchers across the globe to collaborate in the quest for an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus.


Antiviral therapy coupled with modalities such as convalescent plasma and antibody therapy is currently under investigation and has been granted emergency use authorization. However, effective treatment for COVID-19 remains a challenge and medical research teams are working hard to investigate more effective modalities such as adoptive cell therapy.

Those who recover successfully from COVID-19 do so because they have T cells that can recognize SARS-COV-2 proteins on the cell membrane and inhibit the proliferation of infected cells. Therefore, offering T cells from convalescent patients may offer adaptive immunity to those with compromised immunity. This is the basis of adoptive cell therapy in COVID-19 patients.

A preconfigured LIMS accelerates clinical research through facilitating specimen management and data sharing, among teams. This is necessary for the identification and validation of disease markers as well as therapeutic strategies.