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Coronavirus antibody test developed at St George’s to be used to test cancer patients

Published: 11 May 2020


A rapid diagnostic test, evaluated by St George’s researchers and developed in collaboration with Mologic Ltd, is going to be used to assess coronavirus in cancer patients.

Led by researchers from The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, St George’s, University of London and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, the project will investigate how coronavirus affects cancer patients and how long it takes for them to clear the virus. The study will also seek to understand whether antibody tests, which pick up an immune response to disease, work effectively in the cancer population, who are often immunosuppressed. The study will be funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity and supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden and Institute of Cancer Research, London.

The research team aim to recruit up to sixty cancer patients receiving treatment at The Royal Marsden, who test positive for coronavirus. These patients will then have a series of follow-up tests over five or six time-points to look for signs of infection in their blood or saliva. The samples from these tests will be analysed by a team at St George’s to assess the patients’ immune response.

Cancer patients are considered to be high risk individuals during the coronavirus pandemic, due to the impacts that cancer and its treatment can have on the immune system. Clinicians are having to make critical decisions daily on a case by case basis to balance the benefit of receiving cancer treatment at the present time versus the risk of that treatment making patients vulnerable to coronavirus. The researchers on this project hope that a better understanding of how patients respond to coronavirus will help clinicians to make these decisions.

Chief Investigator, Dr Sheela Rao, Consultant Medical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust said: “This research will be vital in helping us identify key information and patterns in understanding how Covid-19 affects cancer patients. We need to understand if the new antibody testing planned for patients without cancer is also informative for cancer patients or if patients with cancer take longer to shed the virus and develop immunity more slowly.

“The antibody tests we’ll be using in this study will allow us to see immediate results, enabling us to gather information which will be crucial in helping clinical teams make decisions about safely planning or restarting future treatment and surgery for this group of patients.”

This study forms an extension of the work that is already being undertaken at St George’s to develop rapid diagnostic tests for coronavirus. The tests, developed with the company Mologic, have been submitted to Public Health England, which will evaluate if they can be used to meet the country’s required testing capacity, as well as being used abroad.

Speaking about the new study, Professor Sanjeev Krishna, who is leading on the evaluation of the tests at St George’s, said: “It’s important we understand how this disease behaves in different groups of patients, in particular for cancer patients, whose immune systems are often suppressed and respond differently to others.  

“We developed this project so that we can identify the strengths and limitations of the test for these groups and find the best mechanisms for assessing the response to the virus. Only with efficient testing and reliable data can we plot the best course of action for looking after these patients.”

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