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The human immune system contains a treasure trove of information, storing memories of prior exposure to pathogens and allergens in the form of antibodies. A technology capable of harnessing this information – serum epitope repertoire analysis (SERA) – has been developed by Serimmune, enabling the detection of multiple diverse antigens stimulating immunity from a single specimen.
Technology Networks recently spoke with Malek Faham, interim CEO, and John Shon, chief technology officer, at Serimmune, to learn more about SERA and some of the applications it could benefit, including cancer diagnostics and COVID-19 studies.
Q: Can you tell us more about the science behind the SERA technology?
A: Serimmune has created a universal serology platform that unlocks the functional antibody repertoire and puts it into the hands of professionals who leverage it for biological innovation. Unlike other technologies for conducting similar assessments, SERA utilizes a random peptide library allowing for hypothesis-free driven discovery of novel antigen interactions (e.g., autoantibodies) as well as multiplex analysis of serological targets from a single sample, cohort of samples, or population.
Q: SERA enables the detection of multiple diverse antigens stimulating immunity from a single specimen. What advantages does this offer over traditional approaches that test for antigens from a single known pathogen or disease?
A: As a research tool, SERA allows for an unlimited multiplexing of serology tests from a single specimen. The same assay can thus be vital in identifying new disease outbreaks earlier and can be leveraged as an early warning beacon for future pandemics, allowing researchers to get a head start on new diagnostic, vaccine and therapeutic development. Any given syndrome may be caused by multiple different pathogens or strains, and SERA enables the exploration of these from a single sample.
Q: Can you tell us more about the human immunity map Serimmune is creating? How do you envisage the map will evolve and be utilized in the coming years?
A: Our immune system is not only our body’s frontline response to new disease, but also an archive; a historical log of our past illnesses and vaccinations. Viewing this data holistically — in both healthy individuals and in those with disease — provides vital intelligence to drive important healthcare decisions. By mapping individual immune responses, we can take a broad look into immunity that can be interrogated to uncover disease information we never would have expected. This idea is the foundation SERA was developed on, and what drives our company.
Q: How is SERA helping to increase our understanding of the differences in immunity and response to SARS-CoV-2? Can you tell us more about the COVID-19 study Serimmune is conducting and its significance?
A: Our technology’s application crossed a major innovation milestone early 2021. In January 2021, our company announced the COVID-19 Profiling Service, a proprietary service that uses SERA to take a detailed look at COVID antibody response for researchers looking to develop vaccines and therapeutics as well as researchers performing long-haul and longitudinal studies. It is truly a groundbreaking solution for researchers developing powerful tools to fight the pandemic. As a great example, Dr. Akiko Iwasaki of the Yale School of Medicine successfully found that the B.1.1.7 variant is unlikely to escape antibodies generated against linear epitopes in prior SARS-CoV-2 infections.
2021 also saw the launch of an important clinical study for Serimmune. The 2,000-participant study, which is being overseen by WCG Institutional Review Board (IRB) is designed to assess individual immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 from both natural infection and vaccination, and track those responses over a five-year period. Using SERA, Serimmune is seeking to uncover differences in personal immune response and how that might impact immunity, duration of immunity as well as severity of symptoms.
Q: Aside from infectious diseases like COVID-19, SERA also has applications in cancer research. Can you share any highlights of the impact immune mapping could have in the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of cancer?
A: In cancer, normal gene expression patterns are disrupted, and mutated or abnormally expressed genes can result in the development of neoantigens that elicit an immune response. SERA has the ability to explore all tumor associated antigens (TAAs) in a cancer cohort enabling the development of diagnostics for early detection and can also be used to identify changes in TAAs in response to checkpoint or other cancer immunotherapies.
Q: What about applications in neuroscience? Has SERA been used to study neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease?
A: There is an increasing interest in exploring the potential contributions of infectious disease in neurodegenerative diseases. SERA enables researchers to look for signs of humoral response to infections that might be differentially seen in cohorts of subjects with disease such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. SERA can be used to explore humoral response in both serum/plasma as well as cerebrospinal fluid.
Q: What do you see for the future of SERA? Does the technology have the potential to be used routinely as a screening tool for the early detection of conditions such as autoimmune diseases and cancer?
A: As our knowledge of humoral response develops over the next few years, we believe that multiple new markers of autoimmune disease and cancer will be discovered as mechanisms of disease are uncovered. For example, EBV infection has recently been shown to be the likely etiologic agent in multiple sclerosis. Humoral markers associated with infection, autoimmune disease and cancer can all be explored with SERA to develop tools for screening, diagnosis, monitoring and ultimately prevention and treatment of disease.
Malek Faham and John Shon were speaking to Anna MacDonald, Science Writer for Technology Networks.