New Baseline COVID-19 Research Project launches to advance scientific understanding of virus, with initial focus on antibody testing
By William Marks, MD, MS-HCM, Head of Clinical Science, Verily
Verily’s Project Baseline has launched the Baseline COVID-19 Research Project, an effort to advance the scientific understanding of COVID-19. Participants who choose to join will have access to relevant clinical studies and research activities, which may include scientific research and testing of new tools or interventions.
Our first initiative, Baseline Antibody Research, is a serology study offered to individuals who have received COVID-19 nasal swab testing through the Baseline COVID-19 Testing Program initially, starting in the Bay Area, and is focused on the human immune response to infection. Public health authorities will likely rely on serology testing to estimate national infection rates and to determine whether or not antibodies confer protection against the virus.
Coronavirus antibodies have emerged as a key research area because they can help answer important scientific and public health questions. These include whether the presence of antibodies predict a long-lasting immunity to reinfection, and which antibodies are correlated with protection. Along with the promise they hold for developing better treatments and vaccines, antibodies can shed light on the historical spread of the virus and levels of immunity in the population today. These are critical factors in public health officials’ decision-making around reopening communities.
We’re still learning about how this novel coronavirus replicates in the body and is spread to others, whether or not a person is exhibiting symptoms. COVID-19 tests have been shown to sometimes pick up viral strains from past infections, or miss a COVID-19 infection because testing occurred at a stage where it’s difficult to detect. Through Baseline Antibody Research, we hope to support assessment of variability across different COVID-19 testing methods to support ongoing containment efforts.
Improving scientific knowledge of COVID-19 requires studying it from multiple vantage points. Alongside antibody research, the COVID-19 Research Project will include a range of initiatives focused on improving the outcomes of those affected by COVID-19. The COVID-19 Research Project is open to everyone who wants to contribute directly to crucial research — regardless of whether they have personally experienced the illness. Beyond clinical study opportunities, research activities may also include scientific surveys on mental health, lifestyle, and more. Such information from healthy individuals can help quantify the public health impact of the disease, and provide a basis for better understanding the changes caused by COVID-19. Members of the Project Baseline will be able to access opportunities and choose to take part in whatever research interests them through an online member portal.
To help with aligning research efforts to public health needs, local public health officials in California involved in the state’s Project Baseline-supported community-based testing program have been invited to join an advisory committee. As part of this effort, we plan to share information on the Research Project’s progress with them on an ongoing basis.
Project Baseline is focused on building a map of human health by exploring new areas of science. The COVID-19 Research Project joins a growing number of efforts by Project Baseline and Verily specifically to combat COVID-19. Purpose-built for securely managing personal health information, the Baseline Platform was created to make it easier for people to participate in clinical research while protecting data privacy. In March, Project Baseline joined with the state of California to deliver community-based testing to high-risk individuals, supported by the Baseline Platform — which was designed to enable decentralized access, electronic screening, and return of results.
Since the launch of the California-based testing, the program has begun to scale nationwide, partnering with Rite Aid to power testing sites across eight additional states. Verily has also introduced the COVID-19 Pathfinder, a set of digital tools that help hospitals and health systems connect patients with up-to-date health information on-demand.
To learn more about the research program or to join, visit projectbaseline.com/covid-research.