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NCI Launches SeroNet to Boost SARS-CoV-2 Serology Testing Capacity, Better Grasp Immune Response

NEW YORK – The National Cancer Institute said on Thursday it has launched the Serological Sciences Network for COVID-19 (SeroNet) to increase serological testing capacity in the US and better understand the immune response to the coronavirus.

More than 25 academic, government, and private sector research institutions will be part of the network, which also aims to accelerate the development of treatments and vaccines for the disease.

Along with NCI, which is leading SeroNet, the initiative will include the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and other parts of the NIH and US Department of Health and Human Services. Funds from the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act that totaled $306 million are being directed to create SeroNet.

Components of the network include a Serological Sciences Centers of Excellence, comprising eight institutions that will conduct research projects to characterize immune responses to coronavirus infection and study what factors drive disease progression and protection against future infection.

Researchers at 13 institutions have also received NCI grants, known as Research Project Cooperative Agreements, to conduct basic and applied serological research.

Additionally, NCI, through the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research (FNLCR), has awarded subcontracts to four institutions to develop serology tests for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and to perform surveillance studies. They include Arizona State University; the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research; the University of Minnesota; and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Each center will have the capacity to test at least 5,000 people per week, NCI said.

Meanwhile, the HPV Serology Lab at FNLCR will be expanded to conduct serology research into COVID-19. NCI said that the lab has been working with the US Food and Drug Administration to conduct independent evaluations of commercially available antibody test kits to ensure their reliability and accuracy. Longer term, the lab will research what it means to be seropositive and to contribute to seropositivity research projects, including a long-term clinical trial of COVID-19 in people with cancer.

The lab is also developing a "standard" pooled serum to compare the ability of different vaccine candidates to induce an immune response to the coronavirus.

Lastly, under NCI's direction, FNLCR will manage a SeroNet Coordination Center to facilitate activities and foster collaboration across the different components of SeroNet.