Georgetown Lombardi Launches COVID-19 Antibody Study in People with Cancer

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Karen Teber

WASHINGTON (April 29, 2020) — Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, in collaboration with MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, has begun a study to test for specific virus antibodies in people with cancer, who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

The FDA, has approved (under an emergency use authorization) only a few tests produced commercially to detect antibodies against SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Little is known about the true frequency of infections, the severity of infections in specific populations, and the extent of immunity that develops if infected.

For the study, blood samples will be collected now and after the “first-wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic in order to better understand the true biology of the disease, the risk to cancer patients, and enable the clinical community to better prepare for future waves of COVID-19.  Only those without current symptoms of COVID-19 who are being treated for cancer at Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center/MedStar Georgetown University Hospital qualify.

“Many individuals infected with the novel coronavirus have no symptoms or few and minor symptoms, so they may not know they’ve been infected,” explains Michael B. Atkins, MD, a medical oncologist and lead investigator of the study. “Because of that, we don’t really know how widespread the infection truly is in different populations. For oncology patients, who often have a compromised immune system, understanding the true risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection will help minimize and protect patients from the next wave of COVID-19.”

The study will enroll about 2,000 people who will be asked to complete a survey and give a blood sample after enrollment and give a second blood sample and survey after about three months.

The antibody tests to SARS-CoV-2 may take weeks or months to perform depending on the commercial lab conducting the test. While there may be no benefit to the health of participants, they will be provided potentially valuable information about their prior exposure to the virus.

“At this time, we don’t know if testing positive for the presence of the antibody in the blood means the person is fully protected from future SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Atkins explains. “However, individuals identified to have high levels of immunity could be less susceptible to symptomatic reinfection and also could serve as donors of convalescent plasma for use to treat patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms.”

If you are a Georgetown Lombardi patient and are interested in enrolling in the study, please contact your oncologist.

In addition to Atkins, study investigators include Lisa Boyle, MD, Catherine Lai, MD, MPH, and Arnold Potosky, PhD.

The authors report having no personal financial interests related to the study.