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NEC OncoImmunity adapts its AI technology to combat COVID-19

Norwegian NEC OncoImmunity has announced analysis results from efforts using AI prediction platforms to design blueprints for SARS-CoV-2 vaccines that can drive potent T-cell responses in the majority of the global population.

This initiative by the scientific teams within the NEC Group to help combat outbreaks of COVID-19 and support international vaccine development efforts is led by NEC OncoImmunity (NOI) in collaboration with NEC Laboratories Europe (NLE). These AI prediction platforms are based on the AI technology used by NEC and NOI in the development of personalized neoantigen cancer vaccines.

“It has been exhilarating hard work between our CEO, Richard Stratford, the entire team at NEC OncoImmunity and our colleagues in the NEC Group to adapt our NEC Immune Profiler technology from its current cancer focus and quickly make it applicable to infectious diseases to help deal with the COVID-19 threat.  It is encouraging that our AI and bioinformatics platform can design vaccine blueprints that have the potential to induce a broad immune response, that may not only be protective for the global population, but also stimulate a long-lived memory immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 and its future mutated versions,” says Trevor Clancy, Chief Scientific Officer at NEC OncoImmunity and the lead corresponding author in the paper.

Identify “hotspots” in the viral proteome

During the analysis, which is published at bioRxiv, the team analyzed thousands of sequences from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and identified epitopes (potential vaccine targets) for the 100 most frequent HLA alleles (diverse immunological makeup) in the global population.

The prediction algorithms scanned for epitopes across the entire repertoire of proteins in SARS-CoV-2, not only the spike surface protein that gives this family of coronavirus its name. The team then used this data to identify “hotspots” in the viral proteome that contained overlapping and co-located epitopes from multiple HLA-alleles.

The optimal constellation of “hotspots” was then selected by their algorithms to generate the optimal immune response with the broadest coverage of the human population, whilst prioritizing hotspots that occurred in conserved regions of the viral proteome. These conserved regions are less likely to mutate in future strains. In addition, hotspots containing viral epitopes that had significant similarity with human proteins, especially those expressed in critical organs, were removed from the vaccine design blueprints to avoid adverse effects.

Ready to start partnering efforts

The analysis demonstrates the capabilities of the NEC Group to leverage their AI platforms to design blueprints for a vaccine that is safe and efficacious in a global population and could address the current and future divergent strains of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the company states in a press release.

NEC is now publishing this research to support scientific advancements in the field and is ready to start partnering efforts to pursue the development of an effective vaccine targeting the global population.

Photo of Richard Stratford, CEO of NEC OncoImmunity