QBRI Applies Precision Medicine to Predict and Treat Severe COVID-19

QBRI Applies Precision Medicine to Predict and Treat Severe COVID-19

08 Mar 2022

QBRI study with Hamad Medical Corporation identifies prognostic markers to determine patient handling and treatment

The study was published in Nature Communications

With COVID-19 complications presenting a huge burden on healthcare systems worldwide, Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU), Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), and other collaborators, have published a new joint study in the prestigious Nature Communications that addresses the need for early prognosis and treatment. The study was led by Dr. Fares Al-Ejeh, Senior Scientist at QBRI, and can be accessed online through this link - www.nature.com/articles/s41467-022-28639-4.

The study, conducted by QBRI's Proteomics Core, utilized the Olink Technology platform to examine plasma proteins from SARS-CoV-2 infected patients. The Proteomics Core operates a number of cutting-edge technology platforms that enable researchers to perform high throughput, affinity-based proteomics assays. Proteomics tests associated with this project were performed under the supervision of Dr. Houari Abdesselem, Proteomics Core Laboratory Manager at QBRI.

Testing identified 375 proteins that are changed in the blood of patients with severe COVID-19, which helped explain the biological mechanism behind severe complications. Based on this understanding, the team developed two practical solutions that represent a predictive model which can identify patients at high risk as early as possible after infection, along with early treatment. The first is a 12-protein signature, which they named the COVID-19 Molecular Severity Score, that can predict complications early after infection with SARS-CoV-2. The second is the identification of drugs approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that could prevent or treat severe COVID-19 complications. 

Explaining the protein signature, Dr. Al-Ejeh said: “Our COVID-19 Molecular Severity Score was able to predict severity as early as one to three days after showing symptoms from SARS-CoV-2 infection. This was validated in a totally independent cohort of patients from the United States with different ethnicities and demographics.” 

Based on the signature, the study also identified seven clinical tests routinely used in medical labs that can be used as an early risk predictor of COVID-19 severity and survival. 

“Being mindful that not all healthcare systems are able to use assays, we developed a model and scoring system that uses seven routine clinical tests. Each person infected with SARS-CoV-2 would have a personalized risk score that can inform the hospital whether the patient is likely to develop severe COVID-19 or recover quickly without complications. Again, we were able to validate this clinical scoring system in the independent cohort from the USA, illustrating that our risk prediction models, the 12-protein Molecular Severity Score, and seven clinical markers, have broad applications,” Dr. Al-Ejeh said.

This study also used the biological information to propose drug combinations that researchers believe should be effective against COVID-19. The risk prediction models, in parallel with potential drug combinations, means that we could firstly identify a patient at high risk of developing severe complications, and secondly, start effectively treating the patient as early as possible. 

Dr. Maryam A. Al-Nesf, Head of the Allergy and Immunology Division at HMC and the clinical lead of the study, said: “This work would not have been possible without the collaboration between all involved parties. This strong and continued coordination between all involved institutes helped us achieve such potentially impactful findings presented in this published article, where we had to work together during this timely project as clinicians and researchers.”

Dr. Omar El-Agnaf, Executive Director at QBRI, commented: “The study results are promising with the potential to reduce the impact of COVID-19 complications on patients and the healthcare system. This is an example of QBRI's research driven by biomarker discoveries and the pursuit of precision medicine to enhance individual health. As part of our mission to build a strong scientific community to capitalize on the latest scientific advances and address urgent healthcare challenges, we are working closely with HMC and our other collaborators.”